Working increased hours with the frequent need to continually check emails has been a reality for many workers during the pandemic. However, new research finds that the majority of employees back a “Right to Disconnect”. 

According to new research by Prospect, two-thirds of workers polled (66 per cent), who work remotely, support a “Right to Disconnect” Bill. This would require companies to agree on rules with their employees for time periods where they cannot be contacted.

This “always-on” culture has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with many workers feeling the need to be constantly connected, whether that is through working longer hours or checking emails during their own personal time.

As such, mental health has worsened over the last year with over a third of people (35 per cent) reporting this. Almost half of workers (42 per cent) state that this is, at least, partly a result of an inability to switch off from work.

In addition to this, three in 10 workers report working more unpaid hours than before the pandemic, linked to the lack of boundaries between work and life. Almost a fifth of employees (18 per cent) reported working a minimum of four additional unpaid hours a week.

With countries such as France and Ireland enforcing their own laws linked to this, Prospect, a trade union, has been calling for the Right to Disconnect Bill to be included in a consultation in advance of the Employment Bill in the UK.

Andrew Pakes, Prospect Research Director, 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.

Including a Right to Disconnect in the Employment Bill would be a big step in redrawing the blurred boundary between home and work and would show that the government is serious about tackling the dark side of remote working.

Sarah Evans, Partner at Constantine Law, stated:

Prospect are calling for UK legislation which does not “impose a top-down, one-size-fits-all set of Rules” but instead which requires “all employers to consult with employees and employee representatives on this issue with the aim of agreeing a set of rules that works for them”.  This would align with laws in Italy and France, as compared with more strident prohibitions on contacting employees outside of work as has been debated in New York, or an actual right to disconnect – and we assume not suffer detriment for having done so –  in Argentina and Spain.

Employers are going to have to be very clear what is and is not expected of their employees contractually if such a right is encompassed in law – and that will vary enormously between industries and individual workers:  very well paid, senior posts may expect to have to keep communication channels open whilst on leave/ at weekends – more junior posts would not.

Sarah continues:

What are “normal hours” will  have to be accurately described so that offshore / night workers/ workers with caring responsibilities who benefit from being able to log on outside office hours are included, and flexibility not sacrificed.

Clarity in contracts and policies will be key, and a one size will definitely not fit all: employers need to be able to comply with the right, and for some that will involve a massive cultural shift, including potentially in use of technology and monitoring of working times for the opposite purpose we usually see – to check if someone is working too much, rather than not enough!


*To obtain these results, Opinium, on behalf of Prospect, surveyed 2,428 workers of which 617 were normally office based.