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‘New deal for working people’ – Labour plans to introduce right to disconnect if it wins the next election

The Labour Party have published their ‘New deal for working people’ outlining the changes they propose to make to employment law if they win the next election. Alongside high-profile proposals such as scrapping the 2 year qualifying period for ordinary unfair dismissal they have also pledged to introduce the ‘right to disconnect’. The proposal is short on detail but could mean that employers will find themselves restricted from contacting workers outside of normal working hours to better protect employees’ work-life balance. Other jurisdictions have already embraced this idea – in France, businesses with over 50 employees must offer the right to disconnect. In Ontario Canada the right applies to all those working in businesses with over 25 employees.

No detail is provided as to how this right would be implemented by a Labour government in the UK and what enforcement measures might be put in place to ensure compliance. The UK already has an opt-out of the 48-hour working week for working time – perhaps employees will equally be able to opt-out of the right to disconnect? If so, the right is unlikely to have a significant impact on workplace culture. 

There are potential issues with the proposal, for both employers and employees. Employers in some sectors rely upon employees being available out-of-hours and at short notice. This is often rewarded by way of higher salary and benefits. From an employee’s point of view, as businesses adopt a wider range of agile working solutions in the aftermath of COVID-19, having prescriptive disconnection times may not work for all. Those who work condensed or flexible hours may actually want to be connected outside of the normal working day. 

Unless and until we have a change of government, these proposals are unlikely to gain much traction but the fact that they are being proposed at all should prompt employers to look carefully at their own positions on flexibility and work-life balance. Much can be achieved in terms of employee engagement and job satisfaction by employers focusing on these areas regardless of what the law may require them to do.