13 Jul, 2021

Farm Workers’ Right to Disconnect — What Employers need to know

Farmers need to collaborate with their employees when developing a Right to Disconnect policy for their business, says Mary McDonagh.

Farmers need to collaborate with their employees when developing a Right to Disconnect policy for their business, says Mary McDonagh.

Earlier this year, the Workplace Relations Committee published a Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect from work outside of normal working hours. The Code acknowledges that different working arrangements suit different businesses but says that the right to maintain clear boundaries between work and leisure is universal. While failure to follow the Code is not an offence, if disputes arise it is likely that relevant provisions of the Code will be taken into account. Consequently, it is important that employers familiarise themselves with the Code and develop an appropriate Right to Disconnect Policy for their business.

What is the Right to Disconnect?

The Code sets out three key elements of the right to disconnect:

·       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 outside normal working hours).

The Code recommends that employers engage with their employees to develop a Right to Disconnect Policy that accommodates their business needs. The policy needs to take into account relevant health and safety legislation, the statutory obligations of employers and employees, and employees’ terms and conditions of employment.

Developing a policy

When developing your policy, it is important to emphasise the expectation that staff disconnect from work outside of their normal working hours and during annual leave. The policy should also allow for occasional legitimate situations where it may be necessary to contact staff outside of normal working hours.  Once you have your policy in place, it should be referenced in your employees’ terms and conditions of employment and read in conjunction with your other employment policies.

Grievance procedure

A procedure for your employees to raise concerns should be included in your Right to Disconnect policy. Examples of concerns that may arise include being contacted regularly outside of normal work hours, being expected to regularly work through breaks or being penalised for not being available out of normal working hours.

Sample policy

A sample Right to Disconnect Policy layout and template clauses is available on the Workplace Relations Commission website.