As we begin to settle in to the New Year and adjust to working life after the festive break, the ‘right to disconnect’ is back on the agenda.
I previously discussed Autonomy’s proposals on the ‘right to disconnect’ here, which included a proposed right of employees to bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal if they were subject to a detriment for failing or refusing to work or respond to work-related communications.
It appears that the ‘right to disconnect’ is now on the Scottish government’s radar. In their 2022-2023 Public Sector Pay Policy, they have introduced a “requirement for employers to have meaningful discussions with staff representatives about the Right to Disconnect”. The “right to disconnect” is concerned with the right of employees not to respond to any work-related correspondence outside of normal working hours.
A key theme of the policy is wellbeing, which seems to be driving the move towards considering a more formal ‘right to disconnect’ in the workplace. The impact of remote working on employee health and wellbeing has been widely reported and with recent government announcements encouraging further remote working, the difficulty for employees to switch off outside normal working hours may be exacerbated.
Whilst the Scottish government’s latest policy does not signal any immediate legislative changes of the like considered by Autonomy, it is clear that fundamental changes to ways of working are being considered at a governmental level, including giving employers the option of exploring “the risks and benefits of a four day working week”.
A ‘right to disconnect’ has already been introduced in other European countries such as France, and is being explored elsewhere. Trade unions have also been calling for the implementation of the ‘right to disconnect’ in the UK for some time. The Scottish government’s apparent support of the concept may therefore lead to more formal changes in the future, however as things stand the commitment in their 2022-23 pay policy is limited to public sector employees in Scotland. There is currently no corresponding commitment from the UK government.
Regardless of any developments in relation to the ‘right to disconnect’, being mindful of employee health and wellbeing, particularly in the current age of increased homeworking, is not a new concept and employers should accordingly be taking active steps to comply with their general duty of care towards employees.