The Right to Disconnect
The position now and what's coming
UPDATE: Government launches Code of Practice for employers and employeees on the right to disconnect (01/04/2021)
See link to download code below.
The Government has announced that it is giving full consideration to remote working in Ireland. Among the many aspects under review is the right to disconnect. This article examines the employee's right to disconnect from work outside normal working hours. This applies to employees who attend at their workplace, but who may work from home after hours, as well as employees who regularly work remotely. We look at the current position in Ireland, which is mainly governed by the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. We also examine the proposed Governmental review of the whole area of working from home, remote working and achieving a good work life balance.
Is there, currently, a Right to Disconnect in Ireland?
There is an implied right to disconnect in Ireland at present. This arises when the rules laid down in the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997(OWTA) are followed. The Act sets out minimum requirements regarding daily and weekly rest breaks for employees. The main provisions of the Act affecting the right to disconnect are as follows:
- A minimum 11 hour rest period at the end of the working day and
- A weekly rest of 24 continuous hours, usually at the weekend
- There are other break entitlements. For more see
There is an obligation on the Employer to keep a record of the hours worked by every worker.
The obligation of an employer to provide a safe system of work comes into play where an employee suffers work related stress from consistently working long hours. It is not an excuse for the employer claiming that they did no know that the employee was working long hours. There is an obligation on the employer to know what hours the employee has worked,under the OWTA.
It is vital ,therefore, that the employer must put in place measures to ensure that breaches of the OWTA or the duty to provide a safe system of work do not occur. This is where a Working from Home/Remote Working policy comes in to play.
Since the 1st April 2021 there is now a Code of Practice for employers and employees on the right to disconnect. This code of practice will be taken into account by adjudicators in the Workplace Relations Commission when hearing claims, so it is very important to be in compliance with it.
A significant decision
The case of Grainne O’Hara v Kepak Convenience Foods Unlimited Company shows how failure to have and enforce a remote working policy together with the importance of proper time keeping records can have a detrimental impact on an employer's case. The case went as far as the Labour Court. It involved Ms O'Hara receiving and replying to her work emails outside office hours and also updating her reports on the employers computerised reporting system, on a regular basis. The employer had not given any guidance in relation to working remotely, in particular to not opening emails outside office hours. They had also failed to keep adequate records of her working hours. Ms. O'Hara was awarded €7500 in compensation for the breach.
What are the Government proposals regarding the Right to Disconnect?
Among the main actions proposed are
• Mandating that home and remote work should be the norm for 20 percent of public sector employment
• Reviewing the treatment of remote working for the purposes of tax and expenditure in the next Budget
• Mapping and investing in a network of remote working hubs across Ireland
• Legislating for the right to request remote working
• Developing a code of practice for the right to disconnect
• Doing what it can to accelerate the provision of high-speed broadband to all parts of Ireland
The strategy is based on three pillars.
Pillar One is focussed on creating a conducive environment for the adopti on of remote work. One of the requirements of Pillar One is the introduction of a code of practice on the right to disconnect. It aimed to introduce this in the First Quarter of 2021, The Workplace Relations Commission, together with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment are tasked with this. The Code, amongst other things, will set out guidance for employees and employers with regard to best practice and approaches to employee disengagement outside normal working hours.
Pillar Two highlights the importance of the development and leveraging of remote work infrastructure to facilitate increased remote work adoption. In short more and better broadband and a national hub infrastructure.
Pillar Three is centred on maximising the benefits of remote work to achieve public policy goals.
What is covered in the new code of practice on the right to disconnect?
There are three rights embodied in it:
- The right of an employee to not have to routinely perform work outside their normal working hours
- The right not to be penalised for refusing to attend to work matters outside of normal working hours
- The duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect (by not routinely emailing or calling outside normal working hours)
What can an employer do now to avoid breaching current legislation?
Now that a new code has been adopted, an employer should develop and implement their own right to disconnect policy taking into account the guidelines laid down in the code of practice. It is important to ensure that all staff members know the rules, so that an employee does not feel obliged, for example, to answer an email from management after hours and that a manager does not expect an answer outside normal hours of work. Exceptions may arise, but they should be the exception, not the norm and the policy should cover that situation.
eLearning Training Course
The Right to Disconnect eLearning.
With the prevalence of remote working and hybrid working the new normal in Ireland, we can expect a rise in complaints regarding health and safety, working time, work related stress.
If you are interested in the benefit of an online training course aimed at your staff, please register your interest and we will be in touch.
Register your interest here
Where can I get advice and help on implementing a Right to Disconnect Policy?
If you would like to find out more about how the right to disconnect may affect your business, please contact us using theorange Yes! Tell Me More button below, and we will get in touch at a time that suits.
Download your Right to Disconnect policy here
Download Code of practice for employers and employees on the right to disconnect here
For more on work emails see
Download Making Remote Work. National Remote Work Strategy. here
For more on remote working see
For more on working parents see
Get your working from home policy here