August 17, 2021
An overtime “epidemic” driven by the rise in home working during the pandemic must be curtailed with new right to disconnect laws, according to a report from think-tank Autonomy. The authors claim that unpaid labour is a growing problem in the UK, exacerbated by home working during the pandemic. They say employees are frequently contacted by their employers after the working day has finished officially to complete tasks, which impacts their mental health. The report proposes draft legislation to implement a ‘right to disconnect’ based on French law, which ensures respect for employee rest periods and allows them to ignore work calls and emails outside of working hours.
The think tank suggests similar rules could be introduced for British workers through tweaks to the Employment Rights Act (1996) to combat a culture of overworking which is negatively impacting both the physical and mental health of workers and disproportionately affecting women. A previous study conducted by Autonomy, Compass and the Four Day Week Campaign found that “at all stages of the crisis” the negative health impacts of overworking have been experienced acutely by women.
“The study found that women are 43 percent more likely to have increased their hours beyond a standard working week than men, and for those with children, this was even more clearly associated with mental distress,” the report states.
Under these proposals, employers would be prohibited from requiring workers to “monitor or respond to any work-related communications, or to carry out any work, outside the worker’s agreed working hours”.
Angela Rayner MP, Shadow Secretary for the Future of Work, said the right to disconnect must be introduced as, at present, workers are expected to “compromise their families, responsibilities or hobbies” to meet employer expectations. It’s not a sustainable way to run an economy,” she said. “Many good businesses want to see these sorts of protections guaranteed to workers across the board. It is only fair that workers are able to establish healthy boundaries, switching off and disconnecting from work outside of working hours”.