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Union urges Government to give UK employees the right to disconnect from work.

BY Sarah Fairley
Employment Law & HR

The UK government is being urged to address the negative impact remote and hybrid working has had on employee’s mental health during the coronavirus pandemic by giving them a legal right to disconnect from work. Prospect, a trade union which represents a variety of specialists, has proposed that Companies should be legally required to negotiate boundaries with their staff and implement rules as to when employees cannot be contacted for work purposes, in the hope it will promote a better work-life balance and increase motivation and workplace productivity.

This follows a recent survey of 2,428 people, carried out by Opinium on behalf of Prospect, which found that 66% of those working from home have had difficulty in being able to separate their professional lives from personal and family responsibilities. Furthermore, 35% of those who are remote workers reported experiencing a decline in their mental health, attributed to work related matters, whilst 30% said they were now routinely working more unpaid hours than they were before.

Prospect highlighted however that whilst people’s experiences of working from home during the pandemic had varied significantly, depending on their jobs, home circumstances and, “crucially, the behaviour of their employers”, it was clear that, for millions, working from home had felt “more like sleeping in the office” because “remote technology made it harder to fully switch off”.

Earlier this month, the Republic of Ireland amended their official code of practice to give employees the right to “disconnect from work”; designed to complement and support the rights and obligations of both employers and employees under Irish employment legislation. As a result, Prospect is now calling upon the UK Government to adopt a similar stance in addressing the “dark side of remote working” and provide clarity on the apparent “blurred boundaries” caused through increased homeworking, by implementing this into the upcoming Employment Bill, the release of which was delayed due to the pandemic.

It is evident that remote working is here to stay, given that many businesses have already introduced homeworking or flexible workforce policies. At the time of publication however, the UK Government had not provided a response to Prospect in relation to implementing a ‘right to disconnect’ within the new Employment Bill and no date has been announced for its release. We do however anticipate there will be an announcement from UK Government in the near future and LAW will continue to keep you updated with any developments.

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