A new law means you might soon be able to ignore out-of-hours work calls and emails.

Do you have the right to disconnect from work

Hitting 'decline' on an incoming call from an overbearing boss after work is a guilty pleasure for many Australians - but should it also be an enshrined right?

These are the questions being asked in Parliament this week, politicians debating whether new laws should be enacted to give Aussies more separation between their work and home life. The Federal Government is pushing for industrial relations reforms to the Fair Work Act to be legislated, being dubbed 'the right to disconnect from work'.

The legislation is aimed at closing loopholes used by employers to undermine pay and working conditions, with employees having the right not to be contacted outside of office hours or set shift hours. 

Watch: the star signs when there's a problem at work. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

"What we're simply saying is someone who's not being paid 24 hours a day shouldn't be penalised if they're not online and available 24 hours a day," Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told reporters this week.

The response from workers overall? Unsurprisingly positive, Aussie employees hoping these laws can create some stronger boundaries for better work-life balance.

As for the response from business owners, bosses and employers? Well... they're not as happy, and fair enough.


The Australian Industry Group is calling for more scrutiny of the proposed law reforms, saying some work agreements already contain provisions for contacting employees after hours, reflecting the needs of particular sectors.

"This is a solution to a problem that very rarely exists and there hasn't been a lot of evidence that this does exist on any sort of widespread or consistent scale," chief executive Innes Willox told ABC TV.

"Workplaces are a lot about give and take and employers understand that they have to work with their employees as well. The issue then is, what would be reasonable? And in law, that's always the difficult thing."

Business Council chief executive Bran Black warns such laws could have unintended consequences.

"If employees and employers are banned from sending emails to each other outside of working hours, it could grind national businesses, operating in different time zones, to a halt," he said.

"It could also severely hinder flexible working arrangements if employees couldn't email their colleagues outside of traditional hours. Everyone deserves to be able to switch off at home, though it's really important to get the balance right here."

Australia's Employment Minister Tony Burke has been meeting with business groups to hear their feedback, saying it's important that a balance is struck. 

What it could mean for employees.

Chat among your friends and family, chances are they have noticed their work life bleeding into their home life.

There could be a phone call after you've left work, a series of Slack notifications, or an email sent on the weekend that you 'need' to check.

Take for example the teaching profession. Last year, teachers from the Independent Education Union of Australia said the technological shift over the past few years meant teachers were always contactable by parents, which was leading to burnout.


One concept being discussed is that instead of fining employers for making contact, employees could go to the Fair Work Commission for a 'stop order' if things get out of hand and they are expected to do unpaid work.

While some employees are paid allowances to cover incidental overtime, the laws would aim to tackle unreasonable unpaid hours.

"When someone is only paid, be it nine to five or nine to three or ... whatever their hours might be, and that's all they're being paid, is it reasonable for them also to be expected to be regularly working outside of those hours without pay?" Minister Burke said. "If it's not reasonable, then what on earth can they easily do about it to be able to get it to stop?"

What it could mean for employers and bosses.

Employers would only face fines for contacting workers out of hours in egregious circumstances, or if the stop order imposed by the Fair Work Commission has been breached. 

They face fines of up to $18,780 in serious re-offending cases.

Minister Burke said it is a "pretty light touch" concept that isn't aimed to create a build-up of fines, but to establish a principle that says "you're meant to be paid when you're working".

"We've got to make sure we don't create a problem," he noted. 

Of course though, there are times when it is completely reasonable for a boss to contact a worker. The Federal Government has said these reasons would be ironed out, but would include examples like shift changes.

How the other political parties have responded to the proposed laws.

Greens leader Adam Bandt said the party was having good discussions with the government about potential models.


"Too many people are under an enormous amount of stress and there's a lot of unreasonable contact that happens for people that makes it hard to have a good time with your family or to just recharge for work the next day," he said at a press conference. 

Liberals and Nationals have voted to strongly oppose the workplace laws.

The success of 'right to disconnect laws' overseas.

Right to disconnect laws exist in several nations including Italy, France and Ireland.

In 2017 France introduced the right of workers to disconnect from employers while off duty, meaning employees don't have to take calls or read emails related to work during their time off.  

The European Parliament has also called for a law across the European Union that would alleviate the pressure on workers to answer communications off the clock.

So will these laws actually happen?

So far the proposal has passed the Senate, and will now return to the House of Representatives for final approval. That could happen as soon as this week or could take longer if negotiations drag out.

Minister Burke said the 'right to disconnect' law would not come into effect for six months if the laws passed.

Another caveat to consider as per ABC News is while this legal right would set the national standard, it would only become a reality for most employees once their agreement or award is updated - either to honour their right to switch off, or else pay them more to stay switched on. That adjustment will of course take time.

So stay tuned!

With AAP.

Feature Image: Getty.

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