Calls For The Right To Disconnect – A Message To The Self Employed?

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Calls For The Right To Disconnect - A message to the self employed? - YBKBS Small Business News for Smart Business Owners
Calls For The Right To Disconnect - A message to the self employed?

Employees are finally getting what many self employed business owners have almost taken for granted – working from home. But there is a growing realisation for the employees and employers that will not only be familiar to the self employed small business owners, but what potentially happens next could effect them for years to come.

The Trade Union Prospect is calling for the government to give employees a legally binding “right to disconnect”, with many of its members warning that their mental health is being compromised.

Marc Ford

Marc Ford

Editor-in-Chief, Business Media Owner, Business Coach, Author and Keynote Speaker. Works with over 100's of small businesses every year. Trusted by BBC TV and Radio, Channel 4, Mercedes Benz, Hitachi Capital on business matters.
Calls For The Right To Disconnect - A message to the self employed? - YBKBS Small Business News for Smart Business Owners
Employees are beginning to understand what the self employed have 'tolerated' or 'chosen' everyday to move business forward

This would ban bosses from “routinely emailing or calling” outside set working hours.

Any emails sent at these times could also be automatically deleted to deter off-duty staff from continually checking their inbox.

“While digital technology has kept us safe during the pandemic, for millions of people, working from home has felt more like sleeping in the office, making it harder to fully switch off,” says Prospect’s deputy general secretary, Andrew Pakes.

Work Has Changed

Claire Mullaly, an IT consultant from Northern Ireland, argues the situation facing her and millions of others working from home during the pandemic “isn’t sustainable”. “Work has got more stressful over the last year,” says Claire. “There’s a pressure to check emails, jump on video calls and to be on hand at all hours of the day, and it’s become harder to draw a line between work and home life.”

The Office for National Statistics has found that 35.9% of the UK’s employed population did at least some of their work from home last year.

This group – while saving time on commuting – did an average of six hours’ unpaid overtime each week, it adds. The right to disconnect has been law for four years in France, where companies are asked to set agreed “specific hours” for “teleworkers”.


Ireland also brought in a code of practice last month, under which employers should add “footers and pop-up messages to remind employees… that there is no requirement to reply to emails out of hours”.

Prospect, whose members include managers, civil servants, engineers and scientists, wants the UK government to set out similar protections in its Employment Bill, expected to be published later this year. “Burning people out isn’t good for workers or employers,” says Claire. “We’ve got to give people time to switch off and recharge.”

But companies and lawyers have raised doubts over whether the right to disconnect is feasible at a time when many employees are themselves asking for flexible working.

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, says it would be “very challenging” to make Prospect’s proposal work. “The big question is how do we create good ways of working that are good for people’s wellbeing and how you improve people’s work-life balance,” he adds.

It’s a way of life that the self employed and small business owners have felt they have had to either embrace or ‘put up with’ in order to make their business work, or in the past year, keep going.

Again, the decisions made for employees could, and perhaps should have ramifications for the self employed as many look at the legacy of the global pandemic. Many have had their mental health quite simply destroyed, others like me have worked all hours, as and when, because I wasn’t in the cross hares of the Government financial support. 

Respect Boundaries

At the time of writing, the official advice across the UK currently is for people to work at home wherever possible. To preserve wellbeing, the Mental Health Foundation recommends that bosses stay in daily contact with employees. However, it says they must “respect the boundaries people have between work and home life”.

“We recognise this has been an exceptionally difficult year, and that the pandemic has had an impact on mental health,” a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesperson says. “We are wholeheartedly committed to improving and upholding workers’ rights and this is why we will fulfil a [Conservative Party] manifesto commitment to consult on making flexible work the default.”

The government’s Flexible Working Taskforce is investigating how “hybrid” work – split between home and the office/formal workplace – will operate after the pandemic and this includes looking at the right to disconnect.

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Business Coach, Author and Consultant. Has worked with BBC TV and Radio and Channel 4 on business matters. Trusted by Mercedes Benz, Hitachi Capital. Keynote speaker.