In the modern world, communication is perpetual. Obviously, it is far too simple to sneak a peek at business emails. Even during the evenings, weekends, and holidays, we are simply one click away from working. And even if you do not respond to emails, the very act of viewing them indicates that you are not switching off.
There is a significant chance that family life will be impacted by all of this connectivity. Also possible are sleepless nights and stress-related sickness.
What is our current legal status, and does it require revision?
There are no regulations that prohibit employees from continuously checking their work email. Certainly, we have rules prohibiting overwork, but their breadth is limited. The Working Time Regulations prohibit employees from working more than 48 hours per week, on average, over 17 weeks. Workers may opt out by providing a minimum of seven days’ notice. If there is an agreement with the employer, they may be required to give notice of up to three months. There are other basic exceptions to the 48-hour workweek, such as for workers whose time is not tracked and who have autonomy over their job.
However, responding to emails outside of business hours would likely not be covered. Working time is defined as being at the disposal of one’s employer and doing one’s obligations, as well as periods during which the employee receives necessary training and other periods stated in an agreement. The coverage would include time spent working from home as part of a flexible work arrangement rather than in the office. However, responding to emails in the evenings or while on vacation would not be included, as you would not be available to your employer at those times.
Approximately four years ago, France enacted legislation granting workers the right to disconnect. This right to disconnect must be discussed between the employer and union officials, and there is no predetermined format for any agreement or actions to be implemented.
Portugal has just enacted legislation prohibiting managers from texting and emailing employees outside of business hours.
Should the United Kingdom embrace comparable rights?
It makes reasonable to prevent employers from sending messages and emails to their employees outside of regular business hours. It is arguable that employees should not be placed in a position where they feel pushed into responding to their bosses.
Nonetheless, there must also be some flexibility. So that their return to work is more manageable, some employees may, for instance, opt to respond to customer or client inquiries on their own time. This flexibility should be provided to workers.
However, with autonomy comes responsibility, and employees must take care of their health.