On 1 April 2021, the Workplace Relations Commission (the “WRC”) published a new Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Right to Disconnect (the “Code”). The Code provides guidance on best practice on the right to disconnect, as Aoife Newton, Head of Employment and Immigration Services, explains below.
The Code has immediate effect and was developed following a request by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar, as part of a programme by the Government to support and facilitate remote working.
The Code applies to all forms of employment, including those working remotely. Failure of an employer to follow the Code is not an offence, however, the Code is admissible in evidence in proceedings before the civil courts, Labour Court or the WRC.
The Code states that the right to disconnect is an employee’s right to be able to disengage from work and refrain from engaging in work-related electronic communications, such as emails, telephone calls or other messages, outside normal working hours. There are three key elements:
The main objective of the Code is the creation of a workplace culture in which employees feel they can disconnect from work and work-related devices. It is noted that there are situations where flexibility will be required and that there are occasional legitimate situations where it may be necessary for there to be contact outside of normal working hours. A Right to Disconnect Policy should provide clear guidance around expectations of normal working hours and outline any exceptions.
The Code encourages employers to:
The Code is to complement existing legislation and it provides guidance and clarification on the existing current statutory obligations of employers, which include an employer’s obligation to:
Although there is a significant focus on the obligations of employers, there is also an emphasis on the personal responsibility of employees. Employees are expected to take care to protect their own health, safety and welfare, as well as that of co-workers. Employees should manage their own working time and fully cooperate with any mechanisms their employer has in place for tracking working time, including when working remotely.
They are also asked to be aware of their clients, colleagues and all other peoples’ right to disconnect by not routinely making work-related contact outside of normal working hours. The Code encourages employees to take responsibility for their own work-related wellbeing, including ensuring they take their statutory rest periods and notifying the employer when they have not availed of a statutory rest period to which they were entitled.
Employers should consider undertaking a review of their working time policies and contract clauses and consider implementing a Right to Disconnect Policy addressing issues surrounding the right to disconnect through awareness and training where required.
If you require assistance with inplementing the new Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect or working time matters, please contact a member of the KPMG Employment Law team. We’d be delighted to hear from you.