Give remote workers right to disconnect, urges union


Employees who work from home should have the ‘right to disconnect’, a union has told the government as a survey reveals a third find it difficult to fully switch off from work.

According to Prospect, two-thirds of remote workers want to see a new “right to disconnect” enshrined in law.

It has written to business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, urging him to launch a consultation on such a right in advance of the Employment Bill, which is expected to be covered in May’s Queen’s Speech.

The Bill was proposed in 2019, but it appears to have been delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The main elements put forward include extended redundancy protections for pregnant women and new mothers, the creation of a new single enforcement body to protect workers’ rights, and the right to flexible working by default.

Prospect research director Andrew Pakes said that remote working could be “better” than it has been in recent months.

“People’s experience of working from home during the pandemic has varied wildly depending on their jobs, their home circumstances and, crucially, the behaviour of their employers,” he said.

“It is clear that for millions of us, working from home has felt more like sleeping in the office, with remote technology meaning it is harder to fully switch off, contributing to poor mental health.

“Including a right to disconnect in the Employment Bill would big a big step in redrawing the blurred boundary between home and work and would show that the government is serious about tackling the dark side of remote working.”

An Opinium poll of 2,428 people – including 617 who are normally office based – found 66% of people currently working from home support a policy that would require organisations to negotiate with staff and agree rules on when people could not be contacted for work purposes.

Thirty-five per cent of remote workers say their work-related mental health has worsened during the pandemic. For 42% of these workers, this is at least partly because of an inability to switch off from work.

Thirty-two per cent of remote workers say they find it hard to switch off from work and 30% are working more unpaid hours than before the pandemic.

Prospect suggested that the UK should look at examples from other countries that have adopted new rules in light of increased homeworking.

The Republic of Ireland recently introduced a right to disconnect, aimed to help employees strike a better work-life balance while working from home.

A similar policy is being investigated in Canada, with the country’s minister for labour, Filomena Tassi, suggesting that it would help female workers in particular as women are more likely to take on a greater share of household chores and caring responsibilities.

In France, a right to disconnect passed into law in 2017. The French government recognised that technology had blurred the lines between work and private lives after a study found 37% of workers were using work equipment, such as mobile phones, outside of their normal working hours and 62% wanted more regulation of this.

Draft legislation to protect the rights of remote workers is also being considered in Spain, and includes rules that compel employers to pay for homeworking equipment and allow staff to work flexible hours.

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