Employment law specialists have warned that giving employees the ‘right to disconnect’ could impact the flexible working patterns some employees have enjoyed during the pandemic, if it is not managed appropriately.
It follows growing calls from trade unions for the UK to follow in Ireland’s recent footsteps to introduce a right to disconnect clause in the forthcoming Employment Bill.
Under the right to disconnect, employees in Ireland are entitled to switch off from work and not engage in digitally enabled communications outside of their normal hours.
Calls for a similar clause in the UK have gained momentum in recent weeks, but it could potentially have a detrimental impact on future flexible working polices.
Talks to introduce greater workers’ rights and allowing people to switch off are seen as a positive move for the UK by many employment commentators, and would follow recent moves in employment law to support employee wellbeing.
However, implementing the right to disconnect would mean some of the flexible working benefits could be lost in the short-term, according to employment law specialist solicitor Eileen Schofield.
Eileen Schofield, solicitor and owner of Schofield and Associates and member of Birmingham Law Society, said: “The principle of the right to disconnect is good and I believe that the UK should follow in Ireland’s footsteps; however, the timing needs to be right to work effectively. The pandemic has allowed companies and employees to realise the benefits of truly flexible working hours, which supports colleagues working around their home responsibilities.
“While some staff have benefited from this flexibility, clearly others have struggled to truly switch off after work. The right to disconnect is the right of an employee to not routinely perform work outside normal working hours; however over the last 12 months not everyone has worked ‘normal hours’.
“The challenge with applying a right to disconnect just now is that employees are becoming accustomed to choosing different working hours every day, but the right to disconnect is likely to mean that this total flexibility will not be completely viable.
“If the provision does come in with immediate effect then it will likely mean that employers will need to be more prescriptive with their employees’ working hours for it to be applied effectively. In my view, any such change as part of the Employment Bill should be deferred until at least late 2022 to allow employers and employees to determine the ‘new normal’ for their business.”