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What could the ‘right to disconnect’ mean for your business

HR professionals and employers gear up for potential shifts in employee rights.

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The changes aim to promote a healthier work-life balance for employees.
Businesses should also evaluate their capacity to comply with employee requests to work from home.
Employers may seek legal advice to ensure compliance with evolving regulations.

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The landscape of Australian workplaces could soon see a significant shift with the potential introduction of rights for employees to disconnect from work and to work from home. As discussions around these new rights gain traction, HR professionals and employers must prepare for potential changes that could impact the way they manage their businesses.

Currently, there are no specific provisions in modern awards or legislation that grant entitlements for working from home or the right to disconnect. However, these topics are under consideration, sparking debates among stakeholders. It’s crucial for employers and HR professionals to grasp the potential implications of these changes.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) is currently exploring the inclusion of the right to work from home and the right to disconnect, inviting submissions on these matters. The Closing Loopholes No 2 Bill, which includes the right to disconnect, has garnered support in the Senate, marking progress towards potential implementation.

While these proposed changes aim to promote a healthier work-life balance for employees, they may face resistance from some employers, particularly those with a preference for office attendance. Challenges in managing and enforcing these rights are expected, especially for organisations with asynchronous work structures.

The proposed right to disconnect would empower employees to disconnect from “unreasonable” out-of-hours contact from employers, with the FWC authorised to issue stop orders for breaches. However, clarity is needed on various aspects, including how this right interacts with overtime and penalty rates.

The proposed right to disconnect would empower employees to disconnect from “unreasonable” out-of-hours contact from employers

Similarly, if the right to work from home is included in modern awards, it could necessitate separate flexible working arrangements for many employers. These arrangements would need to address individual circumstances and may involve redefining ordinary hours, meal breaks, and recording requirements.

As these discussions progress, employers, HR professionals, and people managers can take proactive steps to prepare for potential changes. This includes reviewing current policies, considering practical measures to prevent out-of-hours contact, and establishing systems to monitor employees’ work activities outside agreed-upon hours.

Businesses should also evaluate their capacity to comply with employee requests to work from home and assess the potential impact on operations, culture, and employee wellbeing. Training for managers and communication to all employees about expectations regarding work hours are essential steps in this process.

The next stages involve consultations and the passage of legislation, with the FWC publishing a ‘work and care literature review’ and submissions open to interested parties. Once passed, there will likely be a transition period before these rights take effect.

In navigating these potential changes, employers may seek legal advice to ensure compliance with evolving regulations and to address any specific concerns related to their business operations.

Aaron Goonrey, Partner, leads the Australian Employment & Rewards practice at Pinsent Masons, with Emma Lutwyche, Special Counsel, and Jeremy Bilski, Associate. This article provides general insights and does not constitute formal legal advice.

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