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A break is a break!
You may have seen in the news that France has brought in the ‘right to disconnect’ giving workers a legal right to ignore work-related emails outside of their normal working hours from 1st January this year. The UK is unlikely to follow their lead, but employers should take the issue seriously.

This development should prompt employers to consider the health and wellbeing of their workers. Over the last few years I have seen an increasing number of cases where employees are claiming that their health is being affected as a result of work-related stress and employers need to be concerned about the impact excessive job pressure could be having on productivity and the potential tribunal cost. However, some employers seem to think that it is OK for employees to be permanently available.

The French legislation affects businesses with more than 50 employees and is intended to encourage people to take a proper break and escape the ‘always-on’ culture of the modern workplace.

However, the Working Time Regulations 1998 are there to protect the health and safety of workers by making sure they take adequate rest. In France the equivalent legislation specifies that the default working week should not extend beyond 35 hours. In the UK the maximum number of working hours in a week is 48. However, in the UK (in contrast to all other EU countries) an opt-out mechanism allowing employees to work for longer if they wish is taken advantage of by many employers.

Despite the widespread use of this ‘opt-out’ employers should take care to ensure that workers aren’t over-using digital devices during their downtime or holidays. While they may not want to go as far as enforcing a blanket ban, senior managers should consider how they can to limit such activity, for example by not issuing instructions to staff that require an out-of-hours response. Similarly, they should be mindful not to send instructions to staff after the working day, or over the weekend.

For many customer-focussed businesses banning workers from accessing their inboxes or communicating with clients out of hours may not be practical or realistic. However, if these are employees who are relatively lowly paid, you will need to ensure that you do not breach the minimum wage regulations.

Some large employers allow workers to use an out-of-office message stating that emails are being deleted while they are away. Other companies prefer to apply restrictions preventing individual employees from accessing their inboxes remotely during holidays lasting two weeks or more, to encourage them to take a complete break. This may not be entirely practical for smaller employers who may not have the luxury of additional cover for absent staff, but when putting in arrangements for cover, you should remember that, “a break is a break!”
Posted on 05 Jan 2017

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