You will have seen previous posts from me discussing new proposed employment legislation, some of which would help to improve an employee's work life balance. However, this case reported in the Irish Independent is a harsh reality of what is an effect of the flexible / modern working life.
Under the Organisation of Working Time Act (OWTA), an employee is not allowed to work more than 48 hours per week, based on an average of 4 months. There are some limited exceptions to this, such as night workers.
Unlike in the UK, Ireland doesn't have the same opt-out provision for senior management. This opt-out provision puts the onus on senior management to determine their own working hours and they are responsible for adhering to the Working Time Directive. Whereas in Ireland, the employer will always be responsible for ensuring their employees get proper rest breaks, irrespective of their level of seniority. There has certainly been a practice in Ireland in recent years, to include a clause in employment contracts for senior management to say that the OWTA does not apply, but technically this is incorrect and the liability will always rest with the employer.
While there is certainly a growing trend and acceptance of flexible working hours and the ability to work from home / having remote access, it is not all glorious. Such flexibility lacks structure and discipline, which in turn encourages employees to work in excess of the hours they originally did. We are all glued to our phones these days, so when a work email comes in of course we look at it - the question then is do you have the discipline to set the phone down or do you reply? If you do reply, then the employer is potentially responsible for that employee working in excess of their maximum working hours, depending on the specific circumstances.
With every silver lining, there is a cloud. So how should employers tackle this very real and live problem? Employers need to train their employees on the importance of rest periods, making them aware of the OWTA as well as explaining company policy on access to company devices and replying to work emails outside of office hours. They should also ensure that an accurate record of working time is being recorded for each employee. If an employer does encourage flexible working time, then this should be documented in a policy and training provided. Knowledge is key - and if all parties stay silent and suffer in silence, then it becomes a vicious circle with no one benefiting!
A business executive at a subsidiary of meat producer, Kepak has been awarded €7,500 over being required to deal with out-of-hours work emails, including some after mid-night, that led to work in excess of 48 hours a week.