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'Right to disconnect' code for workers comes into effect from today

The right to disconnect gives employees the right to switch off from work outside of normal working hours,

Image: Shutterstock/leungchopan

A NEW CODE of conduct aimed to give workers the right to disconnect has been signed into effect from today. 

Signing the new code of practice, Tánaiste and Business Minister Leo Varadkar said it will bring about a better work-life balance for workers. 

The code of practice comes into effect immediately and applies to all types of employment, whether you are working remotely or not.

Earlier this year, he announced that the new code of practice on the right to disconnect from work – covering phone calls, emails and switch-off time – is legally admissible.

While there is still no formal right to disconnect under Irish or European law, the code of practice provides practical guidance for employers and employees to assist in meeting existing obligations under existing legislation.

The code was developed by the Workplace Relations Commission, following a request by the Tánaiste last November.

If employees experience problems with their employers regarding their right to disconnect from work, or if issues arise, employees have the right to raise the matter with the Workplace Relations Commission.

While failure to follow a code prepared under the Workplace Relations Act 2015 is not an offence in itself, the law provides that in any proceedings before a court, the Labour Court or the WRC, a code of practice shall be admissible in evidence. 

The purpose is to provide practical guidance and best practice to employers and employees. Business group Ibec and union group Ictu were also involved in its development. 

The code, according to Varadkar, aims to “assist employers and employees in navigating an increasingly digital and changed working landscape which often involves remote and flexible working”.

It also seeks to provide assistance to those employees who feel obligated to routinely work longer hours than those agreed in their terms and conditions of employment.

Right to disconnect

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

There are three rights enshrined in it:

  • The right of an employee to not 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 (by not routinely emailing or calling outside normal working hours)

Varadkar said employers should now draw up the appropriate working arrangements and policies, to ensure that employees will have more options to work outside of traditional hours, which many people have availed of during the pandemic. 

The Director General of the WRC, Liam Kelly, commented:

Disconnecting from work and work-related devices necessitates a joint approach by employers and employees. While placing the onus of management of working time on the employer is appropriate, individual responsibility on the part of employees is also required.

The Tánaiste said he is now encouraging all employers to engage proactively with employees to develop a policy suited to their needs. The code of conduct includes a generic template policy to get businesses started.

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Remote working

Meanwhile the Tánaiste is today also inviting views on his plans to put the right for workers to request remote working into law.

“The pandemic has transformed working practices, and many of those changes will be long-lasting,” Varadkar said. 

“Although much of the impact of the pandemic has been negative, particularly for those who have lost jobs, income or whose businesses have been closed, it also offers an opportunity to make permanent changes for the better, whether that’s working more from home, having more time with the family, or more flexible working hours.”

The Business Post reported in Februray that Varadkar had clashed with Finance Minister Pashcal Donohoe about the provision, with sources stating that there were reservations in Donohoe’s department about new incentives to promote remote working and the impact it could have on cities.

Currently in Ireland, all employees can ask their employers for the right to work remotely, but there is no legal framework around which a request can be made and how it should be dealt with by the employer.

This planned new law will set out clearly how these requests should be facilitated as far as possible.

The Tánaiste acknowledged that not all work lends itself easily to remote working, stating that some workers needs to be physically present on site to do a task, interact with others, or use location-specific specialised machinery or equipment.

In cases where remote work is suitable, a hybrid or blended model with a combination of remote work and onsite work may be the preferred arrangement, while some organisations may prefer a model where employees are required to come onsite only a few days a week or month, he said.

For some companies they need a core of ‘anchor’ people, who will be in the office or on site most days because they need to be. The new law will look at how all of these possibilities can be facilitated, he said.

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