Marita Moloney
Marita Moloney

13.56 3 Apr 2021


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The right to disconnect, a new code of practice that reinforces people's right not to answer calls or emails outside of working hours, should be a collaboration between employers and staff.

That's according to Síobhra Rush, an employment law expert and Partner at Lewis Silkin.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar signed the code of practice this week, meaning employees now 'officially' have a right to a better work-life balance.

The new rules could lead to cases in the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) when there are breaches of the right to disconnect.

It means people have a right to not have to work outside of normal hours; they can't be penalised for refusing to do so; and colleagues shouldn't routinely email or call outside of those times.

It will be up to employers and employees to talk to discuss what normal working hours are defined as, depending on the occupation.

Speaking to Tech Talk with Jess Kelly, Ms Rush explained that the conditions laid out in the code don't differ really from a normal employment contract.

"There's no real new right here and I think people probably weren't aware of that, that these rights already existed under Irish law," she said.

"But I think the fact that people are remote working and the line between work and leisure time is becoming a bit more blurred, it's become a bit of a hot topic."

Right to disconnect should be a collaboration between employers and staff, says lawyer

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She stated there have always been rights for employees under Irish law where employers have to ensure they don't have to work more than 48 hours a week.

The law also requires there are 11 hours of rest between workdays and that employers record how much time staff have worked.

However, Ms Rush added: "Breach of this code of practice won't give an employee a claim in and of themself, but it does certainly give them a little bit more backing in that they can use this breach of the code of practice as evidence if they're justified to bring a claim under the Organisation of Working Time Act."

She acknowledged that some people may check their emails at night of their own accord, while in contrast, others will be sent messages with the expectation that they are responded to before opening of business the next day.

"The code of practice does say, occasionally and depending on the nature of the work and the role of the employee, there may be out of hours contact required," she said.

"But I do think that we're all working from home, we're closer to the work desk, so if we're sitting watching TV we might have our work phone with us.

"Of if you have a bring your own device policy whereby your emails are on your personal work phone, and your phone pings, you may end up responding to an email quite quickly.

"I do think there is a thing of cutting employers some slack, that sometimes employees may feel there are expectations there that really aren't.

"But I think it's certainly getting the conversation going and it's creating an expectation that employers will emphasise a culture of you're not expected to respond to emails late at night unless the circumstances warrant it."

right to disconnect Stock photo of a laptop on a dining room table set up as a remote office to work from home. Credit: PA

Ms Rush said the signing of the code is more than simply about raising awareness as it puts the onus on employers to have a right to disconnect policy in place.

"I think it's worth highlighting that the code of practice does also refer to the obligations of employees in terms of managing their own time and co-operating with whatever time-recording systems are there," she added.

"I think what we may see is the employers, and what I would probably advise to clients, maybe is that the work WhatsApp groups, you might see less of that so that people aren't being contacted by work on their personal devices and that they help the employees to set those boundaries and to stick to them.

"But certainly it is something that I think is collaborative and there are obligations on both sides.

"Equally, I think there is flexibility on both sides in terms of implementing that policy."

Main image: File photo. Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire/PA Images

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