'Hidden overtime' | Overwork 'epidemic' raises calls for 'right to disconnect' law

Overwork 'epidemic' raises calls for 'right to disconnect' law

UK workers are in the midst of an ‘epidemic of hidden overtime’, and demand has risen for new laws around a ‘right to disconnect’, according to the latest report from the Autonomy thinktank.

And whilst a vast demographic of workers have been affected by the growing issue of unpaid overtime, the report also discovered that women were 43% more likely to have increased their hours beyond a standard working week than men, leading to a greater risk of negative health impacts and mental health concerns.

Alongside trade union Prospect, Autonomy is now calling for greater legislative protections for workers, proposing legislation that would create a ‘right to disconnect’. The new laws would be similar to those currently in place in France, which stipulate that employees do not have to take calls or read emails related to work during their time off.

Similar research conducted earlier in the year by Prospect found that that 59% of all workers support the introduction of a ‘right to disconnect’, while 17% are opposed. It also found that among new remote workers, 66% were in favour and 14% against.

The new proposed legislation would theoretically create two amendments to the Employment Rights Act 1996, both of which would ensure workers have the legal right to fully disconnect from all work communications outside working hours.

Any breach of the legislation would give employees the ability to take their employer to an employment tribunal.

The proposal states that employers should “not require a worker to monitor or respond to any work-related communications, or to carry out any work, outside the worker’s agreed working hours, or subject the worker to any detriment for failing to do so,” according to a Guardian report. 

There would, however, be proposed exemptions for industries where this is not feasible and where the employer has made all reasonable steps to minimise working outside agreed hours.

Will Stronge, Director of Research at Autonomy, told the BBC that the COVID pandemic has “accelerated the need to create much clearer boundaries between work-life and home-life”.

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Deputy Leader of the Labour party, Angela Rayner, recently supported the move, telling Parliament: “Alongside the right to flexible working, there must be the right to disconnect. It is only fair that workers are able to establish healthy boundaries, switching off and disconnecting from work outside working hours.

“In the modern workplace, we cannot find ourselves in a place where workers are expected to compromise their families, responsibilities or hobbies in order to meet employer expectations. It’s not a sustainable way to run an economy. Many good businesses want to see these sorts of protections guaranteed to workers across the board,” she added.

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