Code Of Practice Establishes Right To Disconnect

02 Apr 2021 | 08.44 am

Code Of Practice Establishes Right To Disconnect

Not a law, but employers have to take it seriously

02 Apr 2021 | 08.44 am

No, it wasn’t an April Fool joke. From yesterday, employees have the right to disconnect from work courtesy of the government’s new code of practice.

The code gives employees the right to switch off from work outside normal working hours, including the right not to respond immediately to emails, telephone calls or other messages. 

Three rights are enshrined in the code that came into effect on April 1:

  • The right of an employee not to have to routinely perform work outside their normal working hours
  • The right not to be penalised for refusing to attend to work matters outside of normal working hours
  • The duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect (for example, by not routinely emailing or calling outside normal working hours).

Business minister Leo Varadkar said: “The Code of Practice comes into effect immediately and applies to all types of employment, whether you are working remotely or not. It will help employees, no matter what their job is, to strike a better work-life balance and switch off from work outside of their normal working hours.”

If problems or issues arise, employees have the right to raise the matter with the Workplace Relations Commission, which developed the code of practice, full details of which are available here.

Implications For Employers

Karen Killalea, head of employment at law firm Maples and Calder, commented: “The code is aimed at providing practical guidance for employers and employees to agree working arrangements – appropriate to their business – which set clear boundaries between work and leisure.”

“Does it create new rights? No, but it helps to reinforce existing employee rights under working time legislation and it does need to be carefully considered by employers.  The Code of Practice is not a piece of legislation or a regulation in respect of which penalties or individual remedies are created by reason of a breach.

“It’s a non-binding code. However, the code can be relied upon in proceedings in the WRC, the Labour Court and the courts as evidence of the appropriate standard of behaviour in relation to employees rights to disconnect.

“In other words, the test as to whether an employer’s conduct in relation to a complaint regarding the ability to disconnect is reasonable will be measured against the standards set out in the code so employers do need to examine it and assess how it impacts work allocation and deadlines.”

Employers’ Obligations

Killalea added that employers now need to carefully consider how their Right to Disconnect arrangements will work. This should be done in consultation with employees and the working arrangements should be set out in a written policy.

“Companies should consider assigning responsibility for implementing the policy to a management committee or the HR team,” she advised. “Appropriate dispute resolution processes need to be available. Existing grievance or other escalation channels should be equipped to resolve Right to Disconnect issues.”

CIPD Ireland director Mary Connaughton (pictured) said the organisation  will be engaging with HR teams around the country to assist them in any negotiations around how this Code of Practice will apply to their workplace.

“Our research shows worker wellbeing is really high on employers’ agenda these days and I know many businesses have already begun the conversations about how flexible and blended working can apply to their situations,” she stated. “We always advocate open and honest communication between businesses and their workers, and this is more important than ever as the practicalities of the new workplace are established.”

Right To Remote Work

As well as introducing the new code of practice, minister Varadkar invited submissions on his department’s plan to legislate for a right to request remote working. 

At present, while any employee can ask to work remotely there is no legal framework governing how request can be made and how it should be dealt with by the employer. The planned new law will set out clearly how these requests should be facilitated as far as possible. Interested parties have until Friday 7 May to make submissions to the public consultation, available here. 

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