Irish workers get new right to disconnect from the workplace

Out-of-hours emails could soon be a thing of the past thanks to a new Code of Practice.

First published on Friday, Apr 30, 2021

Last updated on Tuesday, Apr 20, 2021

2 min read

Employees now have more rights to ‘disconnect’ outside of their normal working hours.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar signed the Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Right to Disconnect (the Code) on 1st April, and it came into force with immediate effect.

The Code aims to provide guidance to both employers and employees in relation to the Right to Disconnect. Let’s find out more about what this is and how it affects you…

What is the Right to Disconnect?

The Right to Disconnect gives employees a right to disengage from work by not responding to telephone calls, emails, or other messages outside normal working hours.

The three key rights in the Code are:

  • The right of an employee to not have to routinely perform work outside their normal working hours.
  • The right not to be penalised for refusing to attend to work matters outside of normal working hours.
  • The duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect. For example, by not routinely emailing or calling them outside of normal working hours.

Why introduce the Code now?

The pandemic has meant that a huge number of employees have been working remotely.

And with so many staff working from home, many employees have reported difficulties switching off or feeling an obligation to be online outside work hours.  

In response to this development, the Government announced the National Remote Work Strategy in January. This policy document committed to introducing the Code and a legal right for employees to request remote work later this year.  

What action should you take?

We recommend putting a policy in place to clarify your position for staff. And it’s important to remember that the Code applies to all types of employment, not just remote working.  

What if you don’t take action?

The Code doesn’t actually provide employees with a legal right to disconnect. If you fail to follow the guidance in the Code, you won’t be guilty of an offence.

But it’s important to know that the Code may be used in evidence against you in any disputes before a court, the Labour Court, or the Workplace Relations Commission.

What’s going to be the impact of the Code?

While the Code highlights the Right to Disconnect, we must wait and see what impact it has in practice. It doesn’t however change your primary obligations to provide daily and weekly rest breaks, which can be found in the Organisation of Working Time Act.

The Tánaiste is also inviting submissions on the proposed introduction of a right to request remote work. This new employee right looks set to be introduced later this year and is likely to have a far bigger impact on the Irish employment landscape—so watch this space.

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