Trade Union Prospect has called for a Right to Disconnect policy to be introduced, instating a ban on out-of-hours emails to encourage better work-life balance.

This policy would give employees the legally binding right to disconnect, potentially meaning that any emails sent outside of work hours would be automatically deleted to encourage staff to stick to their hours.

This policy has been implemented in other countries such as France and Ireland. Previous research by Prospect indicated that two-thirds (66 per cent) of staff would be in favour of this policy being instated in the UK.

While some have praised this policy such as Jane Gratton, Head of People Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, others have raised potential issues around the practicalities of such a law.

Ms. Gratton stated her view that this policy would “help people to better balance work and home commitments and maintain good mental health”.

This opinion was also shared by Andrew Pakes, Research Director at Prospect, who 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.

However, Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD, called this proposal “very challenging” to actively implement during a time where flexible working is being championed, leading to some altering their working hours outside of the tradition 9-5.

Eileen Schofield, Solicitor and owner of Schofield and Associates and member of Birmingham Law Society, also spoke of the potential issues that could arise as a result of the law:

The challenge with applying a right to disconnect just now is that employees are becoming accustomed to choosing different working hours every day, but the right to disconnect is likely to mean that this total flexibility will not be completely viable.

If the provision does come in with immediate effect then it will likely mean that employers will need to be more prescriptive with their employees’ working hours for it to be applied effectively. In my view, any such change as part of the Employment Bill should be deferred until at least late 2022 to allow employers and employees to determine the ‘new normal’ for their business.

Jeanette Wheeler, HR Director at MHR, spoke of the responsibility that businesses should take to ensure staff are not overworking:

To help track employee wellbeing, organisations should invest in solutions that help build a more connected workforce and encourage open lines of communication. This will not only provide greater engagement across the organisation, but will also help managers step in to avoid employees being at risk of burnout due to extended working hours.

The Government’s Flexible Working Taskforce is currently mapping out the future of work and how employers can adopt flexible working practices beyond the pandemic, including analysing a potential Right to Disconnect law.