Under a new code of practice, all workers have a “Right to Disconnect” from their employment outside of their working hours – however, what does this mean from a farming context?

Farmers need to collaborate with their employees when developing a Right to Disconnect policy for their business, according to Ifac head of human relations (HR) Mary McDonagh.

In an Ifac update on the matter in recent days, McDonagh noted that, earlier this year, the Workplace Relations Committee (WRC) 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, McDonagh says.

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, the Ifac official notes.

In terms of the Right to Disconnect, the Code of Practice sets out three key elements:

  • 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).

According to the code, employers should 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.

Looking next at policy development, McDonagh says that, 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, the Ifac head of HR says.

A grievance procedure – that is, a procedure for your employees to raise concerns – should be included in your Right to Disconnect policy, Ifac says.

McDonagh provided examples of such concerns, which 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.

Ifac notes that a sample for layouts and template clauses can be found on the Workplace Relations Commission website here.