Right to switch off welcomed by employment lawyer

24 May 2023

Labour’s plans to restrict bosses from contacting employees outside of working hours could help ease growing mental health problems in the workplace, according to an employment law expert.

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner has said the party will look to implement "right to switch off" legislation should it win the next election.

The move would restrict managers from contacting their staff by phone or email outside of normal working hours.

Katherine Cooke, a Senior Associate at West Midlands law firm Higgs LLP, said: “I have seen a significant rise in sickness absence due to mental health issues since the pandemic.

“It is a challenge for employers to manage members of staff on prolonged absence. Increased homeworking has also blurred the barriers between work and home life and improved technology means a lot of people feel pressured to always be available.”

Like Angela Rayner, Katherine accepts there will be times when some out of hours contact is required, and certain industries may require exemptions.

The policy is one of many that will form part of Labour’s “new deal for working people” and it is reported it will be in the party’s general election manifesto.

Since 2017 French employees have had the right to disconnect phones and laptops outside of working hours and can demand additional pay for any work carried out outside of normal working hours.

Other countries including Italy, Spain and Portugal have also introduced rules with a similar aim to encourage employees to switch off.

Katherine said: “If this right was introduced through legislation it would give employers pause for thought before they phone or email their staff doing holidays, weekends and evenings. It would set behavioural expectations. It may also be a positive step to reduce the risk of employee burnout.

“It remains to be seen how this right would be introduced by a prospective Labour government, and what mechanism employees would have to enforce this right. All employment lawyers will be keeping a keen eye on the detail of any proposal.”

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