Do you regularly work outside normal working hours? Chances are that you do.

Developments in technology mean we are more connected and easily contacted than ever before, and it doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon.

So it’s interesting that, as part of wider employment law reforms, France looks likely to introduce what has been coined the “right to disconnect”. It is understood that Companies of more than 50 people would need to negotiate a “charter of good conduct” with union representatives. This would detail the hours, usually in the evening and over the weekend, when employees are not expected to be connected to their “digital tools” such as smartphones and laptops. In companies of fewer than 50 people, employers would have to release a document detailing the rules. This is in return for changes to the current 35 hour week, which has been met with protests from objectors – no such thing as a free lunch.

It is unlikely that this will be introduced in the UK. However, there is already some protection regarding working hours, rest breaks and holidays contained in the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR).

The underlying rationale for the WTR is the protection of health and safety, which is perhaps the main reason why working extended hours can cause problems for both employees and employers. In short, the WTR sets out minimum requirements in respect of rest breaks at work:

  • 20-minute break every six hours
  • 11 hours daily rest
  • 24-hour weekly rest
  • Maximum 48 hour week

Each of these could be affected by employees continuing to work from home after their normal working day has come to an end. One of the difficulties is monitoring the work carried out away from the office. If an employer knows that their employee is working extended hours away from the office, it is arguable that further investigations should be carried out to see if any steps should be taken to alleviate this, given that they may not be getting the breaks they are entitled to.

Another issue that arises is working whilst on holiday. The WTR entitles an employee to take at least 28 days annual leave in any leave year (subject to pro-rating for part-time employees). Case law from Europe is clear that the purpose of this time is for rest and relaxation from work. If an employee is working whilst on holiday, they will not be getting that rest.

There is also the general duty owed to employees, as required by Health & Safety legislation, to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees. Working extended hours is more likely to increase the risk of stress and absence from work.

There may be all manner of reasons why employees work beyond their normal working day and from home. Care should be taken if this happens to ensure that the welfare of your employees is taken care of.

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