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HRM Assignment: Justification for Right to Disconnect in Ireland

Question

Task: December 2020 saw the launch of the Workplace Relations Commission public consultation on drafting a “Right to Disconnect” code of practice. A key element of the Government’s ‘Making Remote Work’ strategy, the code aims to provide best practice advice and guidance on approaches to employee disengagement outside normal working hours.

You are required to write a report on HRM assignment to the WRC for inclusion in the code of practice, justifying why you believe employees should have the ‘right to disconnect’ when working remotely.

Answer

Introduction
The concept of Right to Disconnect explored in the HRM assignment upholds the right of a worker to disconnect from work and work associated communication after normal working hours. It endorses the right of the worker to be offline without the apprehensions of receiving retributions from the employer. It can be stated that the Covid-19 pandemic has convulsed the entire workplace scenario. Due to nation-wide lockdowns workers have been forced to work from home. Further, there are Multinational enterprises in Ireland speculating on the continuation of WFH even after the mitigation of the pandemic. The developments and drastic changes such as this, herald a new age for job designs and adjustments of job policies. The flexibility provided by WFH has given a sense of liberation to the Irish workforce (Chiuffo 2019). There is a greater sense of control over schedule allowing better quality of work. However, without the implementation of stringent policies, WFH may impinge on the personal life of an employee. Thus Right to Disconnect is necessary to sustain the human right of a person to lead a healthy life and reap its benefits.

Remote working and the right to disconnect steps
Ireland has launched its remote working policies MEPs in the state have voted for introducing the Right to Disconnect. The RTD implies that employees will be disengaged from doing any work-related tasks, such as attending e-mails and phone calls outside the working hours of an organisation. The code aims that employer and employee are aware of the entitlements with respect to switching off at the end of the day. The code can be used as a means of court proceedings in Ireland (Park and Kwon 2019). The pandemic has accelerated the need for flexible working policies. At the end of 2020, the Right for disconnecting from work after crossing work hours was included in the public consultation of Ireland. The code of practise focussed on the right to disconnect has eased the situation for employees forced to work from home in the pandemic situation. The Right to Disconnect is vital for workers irrespective of their location; the mass shift has brought the topic to the limelight. Across the nation it is being duly acknowledged that the Right to Disconnect be categorised as a fundamental right for a person working from home.

As per the legislation passed in Ireland, the new realities of the digital age have resulted in excessive stress for workers. There needs to be an updating and upgrading of the rights of a worker corresponding to the high connectivity, volatility and stresses of the digital age. A meta-analysis of the Irish workforce has demonstrated that people working from home are twice as likely as the ones working in a physical location to work more than 48 hours each week (Dragano and Lunau 2019). This “always available and on” culture has affected the employees working from home struggling to maintain their work-life balance. The RTD has laid down the rules providing an alternative to staffs for taking up work outside the normal working hours. It outlines that a company is not in a position to take disciplinary action if an employee does not pick up a call after the working hours.

Most importantly the RTD not just states that the Irish workforce may not engage in work after normal working hours. It also defines the ability of people to not be involved in any type of work-associated electronic communications such as e-mails or messages during the non-working hours. The RTD is striving to keep up with the digitisation which has permeated the contemporary work culture in Ireland. With the introductions of digital tools, the border line between the personal and professional life of an individual has almost blurred (Teater 2019). The situation has been further aggravated by the pandemic leading to a large proportion of employees working from home. The Right to Disconnect from work is congruent to some pre-existing human rights. It can be seen that the Right to Leisure and Rest in article 24 of the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" is in some degrees similar focussing on the healthy work-life balance needed by an employee.

Need for the Right to Disconnect
The RTD has been subject to moderate amounts of debate in Ireland. It has been supported by the EU legislative framework reinforcing the need for an individual to disconnect. The liberty being tendered by RTD is of high salience in the contemporary workplace and its several attributes. The ban imposed on the work-related use of communicative digital devices after working hour is critical for maintaining the mental health of an employee. Digital labour subjected to the ubiquitous presence of devices has been largely ignored before the onset of the pandemic in Ireland (Russell and Woods 2020). It is admittedly a stressful and horrible situation for employees working in different sectors. The government of Ireland has realised the urgent need for policies that are aimed at flexible scheduling being provided to employees.

It has been observed in 61% of companies in Ireland that employees are tied to their work even after physically leaving the office (Russell and Woods 2020). They are controlled by an electronic leash causing unnecessary stress. The messages, e-mails and texts colonise the life of a person to the point where they eventually break down or suffer from some kind of mental collapse. The typical technical and professional employees through the late 1900s had attended office and worked for the weekdays for 8-9 hours block. The scenario has undergone a complete upheaval since then. The workplace and the work hours were not stringently defined (Howcroft and Rubery 2019). There have been changes in the workplace regulations and working hours which has been more tangible with the claws of the Covid 19 pandemic affecting the nation. Jobs are not only being done from home, but also in transit and during vacations.

Smart phone, smart watches, laptop and pager have eliminated the border line between the personal and professional life of a worker in Ireland. There has been a huge upsurge in WFH post pandemic which has resulted in a “double-edged sword” for an employee with respect to work-life balance (Nevin and Schieman 2021). While allowing more flexibility to the workforce the use of digital devices for communication implies that workers are increasingly incapable of escaping work. Employers often electronically contact employees after work through chats, e-mails and text messages. This can be done after work which does not have any specific time period. 82.9 % of managers in Ireland have revealed reaching out to employees beyond the working hours in the pandemic situation. It can be derived that the mere expectation of availability creates a huge mental strain on the workers and their families. Even the personnel not executing actual work during non-work time affect the mental health and well-being of employees and their families. Such expectations from the workplace either imagined or real cause more issues and problems including work-life balances, burnout as compared to the actual time taken to read a message and respond to it. The global figures are even more shocking compared to Irish companies providing some aspects of leeway to the workers.

Such unhealthy workplace dynamics creates huge issues for employers and employees. It has led to increased concerns for the safety of workers is deeply involved in work and toiling for too many hours. Stressed-out and tired employees working under WFH in Ireland get sick, injured and miss work at high rates. There is further a noticeable lack of productivity from employees subjected to overwork (Moore, Akhtar and Upchurch 2018). Additional work at some point in time does not necessarily translate to better and improved work. Exposure to the constant needs of the workplace and even the anticipation of excessive demands is detrimental to the health of an employee. These employees are bound to experience high levels of personal and professional conflicts.

Similar to substance addictions compulsive and excessive need to stay connected has been linked to inherently risky behaviours such as ignoring vital personal and professional life duties. Also, current neurobiological findings that there are neural mechanisms interlinked with excessive usage of technology. 41% of workers in Ireland confessed to checking e-mails and chats every 10 seconds. The situation is a trigger for a number of problematic scenarios (Coleman 2020). There is thus a huge need to disconnect from work to sustain the mental health of a person.

The legal status of the right to disconnect in the Ireland
A statutory Right to Disconnect was identified as a pertinent issue that needs to be addressed by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment 2019 report on Remote work in Ireland taking into consideration the increased need for remote working arrangements in place (Sage 2019). Under the Irish and EU laws there already exists in theory the Right to Disconnect from the workplace. The Act formed in 1997 had not foreseen the huge technological revolution hence there are some inevitable pragmatic gaps. As specified by the Labour Party there 3 key practical implications set out in the WFH Bill. Firstly it has been proposed to ratify the terms of employment Act 1994, to require employers to tender policies with respect to employee use of electronic devices to send and receive work-related communications surpassing the hours of work. Secondly it seeks to amend and improve the 1997 Act as it broadly states that employees may not require an employee access work-related electronic communications during the period between the regular finishing and starting time of an employee (Coleman 2020). The present Bill in Ireland further reinforces that any time spent in reading and responding to e-mails will be categorised as working time for an employee. It will not act as a defense for an employer to state that they did not possess proper knowledge of the excessive hours being invested by an employee, unless they have a framework by which the hours of work could be monitored. Thirdly the Bill also seeks to improve the Health, Safety and Welfare Act.

It can be inferred that the Bill has been proposed with the novel obligation of sustaining the mental health of workers in Ireland. It seeks to establish the legal right of a person to disconnect and to place an obligation upon all organisations to have a RTD policy in the place. The Bill further reinstates right of an employee to not be penalised if they ignore any sort of work-related communications beyond the normal working hours (Coleman 2020). But the Bill has not explicitly stated the sanctions to be imposed on an employer in the circumstances of penalisation.

Justification of the right to disconnect
The exploration clearly depicts the need for the RTD policy being implemented in Ireland. The workforce of the nation is exhausted by the constant need to stay connected and be responsive to their employers. The strain of attending office calls through electronic and digital devices are creating huge psychological strain with employees struggling in vain to fulfil the duties of their social life. It is the accurate moment to stand by their side and tender them with the fruits of their labour which includes the Right to Disconnect and be dissociated from office-related activities after the completion of working hours. The situation is worsened for women in the workforce of Ireland with the added burden of childcare (Coleman 2020). Entitlements and rights in the digital landscape of current working contexts should be redesigned to protect employees from the darker aspects of working from home. Staying connected at all time during the Covid 19 pandemic situation has taken a huge toll on workers. After months of being intensely committed employees are manifesting signs of burnouts, fatigues and other health disorders. Employees are overwhelmed with stream of pings pervading their personal space. It can be inferred that pertaining to contemporary circumstances Right to Disconnect is an urgent necessity for protecting physical and mental well-being of Irish human capital. Article 25 of the United Nations states that, “every individual has the right to a specific standard of living, adequate for the well-being and health of an individual and their family including medical care and essential social services”. It can be seen that the Right to Disconnect reinforces this concept staunchly assuring that the long term health and mental well-being of a worker is sustained through adequate work-life balance. The “always on” culture has created numerous problems for the workforce generated primarily from the idea of the workers being denied a sense of individual efficacy. Autonomy is affected by employees always being subjected to reactive alerts. Initiative and morale are drained scattering the mental resources of an employee rendering it difficult for them to prioritise tasks and efforts. Hence, there is dire need for the RTD to ascertain that employees are able to perform as per their full set of capacities and capabilities. The law will be crucial in establishing concrete boundaries between family needs and work expectations by the setting of off-hour electronic communications windows. Modalities for the exercising of these rights should be immediately put into practise.

Complexities of implementation
There are however a set of intricate complexities that the Irish Government needs to implement in the process. There can be certain issues in cases of jobs which require emergency services or even situations under which human life maybe at jeopardy such as the role of a medical practitioner. In cases of certain MNCs employees work across different temporal and spatial time zones. Not responding may not be practical. Workflow being tethered to certain value chain spanning a slew of geographic locations may also create a problem in cases of employees completely switching off after working hours. Backlogs created as a result may not be immediately rectified. The policy should maintain that the workflow remains unhampered through its implementation. The legislative framework should not be vague but include clear terms of after-work communications and the sectors in which they need to be rigorously followed. Ireland legislation has been fortunately ahead of a number of nations. A female employee of Kepak Convenience had been compensated by the court as she had to deal with after-hour e-mails surpassing the 48 hours being invested in a week. However, there needs to be stringent rules and regulations to ascertain that employers are not able to exploit the circumstances leading to huge mental strain being induced on the psyche of employees. It is further important to note that when a new requirement or right is established, an agency should enforce it and the court must essentially interpret it.

Conclusion
Technological advances throughout the last decade have made it easier for remote working to be implemented in Ireland. However, in the light of the current circumstances the Irish government has realised the need for the setting up of framework which can enforce the Right to Disconnect. The analysis clearly points at the need for RTD to protect the physical and mental well-being of Irish workers which is the fundamental right of a human being. Remote and hybrid working environment can be managed better through the Act. The health and safety of workers will result in higher levels of productivity for workers.

Reference List
Chiuffo, F.M., 2019. The ‘Right to Disconnect’or ‘How to Pull the Plug on Work’. Available at SSRN 3422283.[ Available at : https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3422283]

Coleman, B.R., 2020. Managing the disconnect: A critical case study of neoliberalism in youth development practice. Journal of community psychology.[ Available at : https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jcop.22350] Dragano, N. and Lunau, T., 2020.Technostress at work and mental health: concepts and research results. Current opinion in psychiatry, 33(4), pp.407-413.[ Available at : https://journals.lww.com/co-psychiatry/Fulltext/2020/07000/Technostress_at_work_and_mental_health__concepts.16.aspx]

He, S., Lai, D., Mott, S., Little, A., Grock, A., Haas, M.R. and Chan, T.M., 2020. Remote e-work and distance learning for academic medicine: best practices and opportunities for the future. Journal of Graduate Medical Education, 12(3), pp.256-263.[ Available at : https://meridian.allenpress.com/jgme/article-abstract/12/3/256/441990]

Howcroft, D. and Rubery, J., 2019. ‘Bias in, Bias out’: gender equality and the future of work debate. Labour & Industry: a journal of the social and economic relations of work, 29(2), pp.213-227.[ Available at : https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10301763.2019.1619986]

Moore, P.V., Akhtar, P. and Upchurch, M., 2018.Digitalisation of work and resistance. In Humans and Machines at Work (pp. 17-44). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.[ Available at : https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-58232-0_2]

Nevin, A.D. and Schieman, S., 2021. Technological tethering, digital natives, and challenges in the work–family interface. The Sociological Quarterly, 62(1), pp.60-86.[ Available at : https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00380253.2019.1711264]

Park, J.R. and Kwon, S.D., 2019. The Effect of Smart Working and Psychological Attachment from Work on Right to Disconnect: Focused on Moderating Effect of Open Communication and Gender. Journal of Information Technology Applications and Management, 26(1), pp.77-93.[ Available at : https://www.koreascience.or.kr/article/JAKO201917971494758.page]

Russell, E. and Woods, S.A., 2020.Personality differences as predictors of action-goal relationships in work-email activity. Computers in Human Behavior, 103, pp.67-79.[ Available at : https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563219303504]

Sage, D., 2019. Unemployment, wellbeing and the power of the work ethic: Implications for social policy. Critical Social Policy, 39(2), pp.205-228.[ Available at : https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0261018318780910]

Secunda, P.M., 2019. The employee right to disconnect. Notre Dame J. Int'l Comp. L., 9, p.1.[ Available at : https://heinonline.org/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/ndjicl9§ion=4]

Teater, B., 2017. Social work research and its relevance to practice:“The gap between research and practice continues to be wide”. Journal of Social Service Research, 43(5), pp.547-565.[ Available at : https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01488376.2017.1340393]

Von Bergen, C.W. and Bressler, M.S., 2019. Work, non-work boundaries and the right to disconnect. The Journal of Applied Business and Economics, 21(2), pp.51-69.[ Available at : http://homepages.se.edu/cvonbergen/files/2019/05/Work-Non-Work-Boundaries-and-the-Right-to-Disconnect.pdf#page=52]

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