Are you constantly checking or sending work emails outside of office hours? As an employer, you may need to reconsider….

With the introduction of smart phones and our ability to easily access our emails outside of the office; we have all become far more accessible to both our employer and our employees. But is this a good thing?

A recent case in Ireland brought home to me the need for employers to bring in policies around the use of smart phones outside of office hours in their organisation. The Irish Times reported on the 2nd August 2018 that an executive for Kepak was awarded €7,500 for having to deal with late night emails. The employee reported that she worked close to 60 hours a week and was handling emails after midnight. According to the Labour Court “The law is very clear. Employees are entitled to an uninterrupted 11 hour break between finishing work and starting work the following day”. They also pointed out that checking emails is considered to be working time. Therefore, if you were to add up all of the hours that employees spend outside of office time, sending and responding to emails could bring their working hours in excess of 48 hours. This is the maximum number of hours that Irish employees should be working on a regular basis.

We are all guilty of checking our emails outside of the office as it is often easier to respond there and then rather than wait until the next day. There is also a European-wide push to have the work place more flexible. Therefore employees may choose to send and respond to emails outside of office as long as the employer allows them some flexibility to be able to undertake some personal tasks during office hours. If employers do decide to go down this road they should have clear policies and procedures for employees, which clearly outlines how it is going to work for both the employer and the employee. They should also ensure that any agreement between both parties does not breach the Working Time Act.

Employers should never assume that the employee will be okay with being contacted outside of office hours. In my experience being given a mobile phone by your employer implies that you are accessible 24 hours a day. This is no longer the case. Some European Countries have started to individually address this issue and as of the 1st January 2017 the French brought in new employment laws which obliges organisations with more than 50 workers to start negotiations to define the rights of employees to ignore smartphones and guarantee employees “the right to disconnect”.

All employers should consider that every employee has the “right to disconnect”. If the role requires the post holder to be contactable outside of office hours regardless of the employees preference then the employer needs to pay the employee an “on call allowance”.