There is extensive research to illustrate that taking time to relax, switch off and rejuvenate increases our energy levels and is key in managing stress. The increased focus on health and wellbeing has taught us that it is important to have down time and the need to ensure we factor this into our daily routine.
Employees rights have been protected under various legislation including the Organisation of Working Time Act (1997), Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, (2005), Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (2018) and Terms of Employment (Information) Act (1994 – 2014). However, in some instances practices have developed that reflect the culture of the organisation, resulting in blurred boundaries emerging between work and homelife.
Expecting employees to be available outside of their core hours affects their wellbeing, and how effective and productive they are. When employees are expected to engage in work related activities outside of their core working hours on a regular and long-term basis, they will may become exhausted and burn out. Employees have received additional protection with the introduction of the ‘Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Right to Disconnect’ Workplace Relations Commission (2021). This gives employees, regardless of the type of contract they have, the right to disengage from work. Employees will no longer be required or expected to routinely perform work outside of their normal working hours or be penalised for refusing to do so.
This can be a challenge for employers where it is necessary for employees to engage with colleagues and customers/ clients across different time zones to conduct normal and routine achieve business. Equally the increased trend in remote working presents a potential difficulty in adhering to the code. In this context, it is essential to examine current method of communication and develop a strategy for effective communication, in light of this code. This will require considering in terms of when emails and text are sent, calls made, response times and responsibilities of all involved. Hours that different employees work, when meetings are held and how employee can raise concerns.
Practical Steps for Employers
Employers must respect the employees right to disconnect from work when they are off. This means employees should not be contacted while off unless in an emergency or with their agreement. As an employer you should take these practical steps:
- Ensure you are clear on your obligations as an employer and follow them. Refrain from routinely contacting an employee outside normal working hours
- Make it clear to employees that they are not expected to respond to any such communication when they are not at work. Inform employees of their responsibilities under the code and work in partnership with them to agree what needs to be done to comply with the code.
- Clarify the circumstances where an employee is required to work out of hours for business and operational reasons. These may be necessary due to the service being provided; the particular role; customer needs; an emergency; unique requirements of a critical service; or as agreed in the contract of employment.
- Put measures in place that support the implementation of the code, without having a negative impact on business activities. i.e., prepare email responses and time them to go to the recipient during their working hours.
- Get assistance and support to develop a Right to Disconnect policy for your business and procedure in consultation with employees. This process will provide clarity, support changes to work practices and support implementation. This policy will help both you and your employees understand and abide by to your respective legal responsibilities. It will help to set clear boundaries, carry out work safely and achieve a balance and positive relationship between both parties.
- Review work activities and confirm they are managed and carried out in a way that guards against improper conduct that may put the employee’s safety, health, and welfare at work at risk. Get help to review risk assessments and safety statement as necessary to reflect changes to work practices.
- Have a method to record and monitor hours worked and attendance of all employees, in a way that meets the criteria for any potential inspection by the WRC.
Irwin HR can help you develop and implement a Right to Disconnect policy appropriate to your business. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (01) 513 4740 for a free consultation.