Government to consider giving employees a ‘right to disconnect’

Reports have emerged that the government is considering a range of flexible work options including a right to disconnect from work emails.

More and more employees receive mobile devices as part of their terms and conditions of employment. This increasing digitisation of the Irish workforce has blurred the line between work life and personal life.

As both employees and employers continue to grapple with how to achieve work-life balance in the modern workplace, the government is considering whether specific legal rights are necessary.

French example

Minister Heather Humphreys in response to a parliamentary question confirmed, “from a work-life balance perspective, it is important that there are clearly defined guidelines regarding workers’ rights to switch off after office hours”.

The Minister also confirmed that the Interdepartmental Steering Group would examine “the French approach”.

The French government commissioned a study in 2015 that warned of the impact of “info-obesity” on employee health.

The study indicated that employees with mobile devices struggled to separate their work life from their personal life.

The French government responded by passing a law in early 2017. The law requires companies with more than 50 employees to negotiate a clear policy with their staff including clear timeframes around when remote work should not intrude on private life.

Will the Irish government follow France’s lead?

Employees based in Ireland already enjoy a right to disconnect under working time legislation.

Under section 15 of the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997 (OWTA), employers cannot ‘permit’ employees to work more than an average of 48 hours over 7 days.

Employers must also provide employees with daily and weekly rest breaks. Employees are legally entitled to 11 consecutive hours’ daily rest between shifts.

As there is already a right to disconnect under OWTA, the need to enact a specific new law is questionable.

Right to disconnect enforced last year

An employee has even enforced her right to disconnect under OWTA last year.

The employee submitted out-of-hours email records to prove that her employer was aware her working patterns breached the limits under OWTA.

The Labour Court ruled that the employer ‘permitted’ the employee to work above the maximum number of hours allowed under OWTA and awarded the employee €7,500 in compensation.

Reduce working time risks

As the OWTA already includes a right to disconnect, employers that give staff a smartphone or laptop must be wary of the risk of breaching the limits under OWTA.

If you provide staff with mobile devices, your employment policies should include some guidelines around the expected use of mobile devices bearing in mind the working time limits under OWTA.

If you have any questions in relation to your duties to your employees under working time laws, contact the advice line on +353 1 886 0350 to speak with one of our experts.

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Nora Cashe

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Nóra studied Law in Griffith College Dublin and qualified as a Barrister in 2008, practising in the area of Criminal law. She is also member of the Irish Employment Law Association.

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