Why We Need the Right to Disconnect in the UK

What is the ‘right to disconnect’? The right to disconnect would ensure that all employees feel free to not to engage in any work-related electronic communications, including email and messages, outside of normal work hours. There are currently laws in France, Italy, and the Philippines guaranteeing workers the #righttodisconnect. The Irish government is currently considering legislation that would improve work-life balance by allowing workers to not answer emails or messages outside of office hours.

Why has this not been made a priority in the UK?

‘Always on’ work culture is a major trigger and accelerator to ill health – both mentally & physically. All workers should have the right to ‘switch off’ once their working day is over. Research has shown that people who responded to work communications after 9 p.m. had a worse quality of sleep and were less engaged the next day. We may be suffering from anxiety about work expectations even if we don’t check emails in off-hours. Research also suggests that the mere expectation of being in contact 24/7 is enough to increase strain for employees and their families.

Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts the right to rest and leisure, placing explicit limitations on work-time. The right to disconnect updates this declaration for the digital age.

In France, the El Khomri Law introduces the right to disconnect through Article 55(1), which amended Article L. 2242-8 of the Labour Code by adding a paragraph (7):

“The procedures for the full exercise by the employee of his right to disconnect and the establishment by the company of mechanisms for regulating the use of digital tools, with a view to ensuring respect for rest periods and leave as well as personal and family life. Failing agreement, the employer shall draw up a charter, after consultation with the works council or, failing that, with the staff delegates. This charter defines these procedures for the exercise of the right to disconnect and furthermore provides for the implementation, for employees and management and management personnel, of training and awareness-raising activities on the reasonable use of digital tools.”

In Italy, a weaker version of right to disconnect was established through Senate Act no 2233-B, Article 19(1):

“The Agreement on Aggregate Work shall be stipulated in writing for the purpose of administrative and probative regularity and shall govern the performance of the work performed outside the premises of the company, including with regard to the forms of exercise of the executive power the employer and the tools used by the worker. The agreement also identifies the worker’s rest periods as well as the technical and organizational measures necessary to ensure that the worker is disconnected from the technological equipment.”

The UK Labour Party should introduce a law that guarantees similar rights. We have a right to disconnect in order to reconnect with our family, friends, and community.

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