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Right to Disconnect law: Here’s a brief introduction

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It’s been a part of our legal system for less than a fortnight but already the Right to Disconnect law is causing a stir. 

The regulation that forbids employers contacting workers after hours was passed in Parliament on 8 February.

Under new rules bosses face penalties, including jail time* and hefty fines, for doing the wrong thing. 

While it’s being blamed on post-COVID remote work trends, and the omnipresence of smartphones, many believe establishing boundaries between employers and employees in a new-look workspace is long overdue, while others say the law will damage relations between employers and employees, as well as hurting productivity.

What is the Right to Disconnect? 

Rather than a new law, this is an adjustment to the Fair Work Act 2009, and lists ‘the right to disconnect outside of working hours’ as a National Employment Standard. 

The Fair Work Amendment (Right to Disconnect) Bill 2023 consists of two sep­a­rate employ­ee rights, set out in the Bill as follows: 

  • “An employ­ee may refuse to mon­i­tor, read or respond to con­tact, or attempt­ed con­tact, from an employ­er out­side of the employee’s work­ing hours unless the refusal is unreasonable.” 
  • “An employ­ee may refuse to mon­i­tor, read or respond to con­tact, or attempt­ed con­tact, from a third par­ty if the con­tact or attempt­ed con­tact relates to their work and is out­side of the employee’s work­ing hours unless the refusal is unreasonable.” 

It means that within months, employees will be able to ignore calls, emails or messages from their bosses after work hours without fear of punishment – unless the reason for the contact is an emergency or genuine welfare matter; or the employee is in receipt of an availability allowance for the period during which the contact is made. 

Breaches could theoretically result in employers facing a fine of $18,000.

“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
after hours
Not Now: Within months employers can be fined for contacting employees after hours after the Right to Disconnect was passed in Parliament this month.

Availability allowance 

The new clause lists activities that an employee is not required to do outside their hours of work, unless they are in receipt of an availability allowance for the relevant period.  

These activities are monitoring, reading or responding to emails, telephone calls or any other kind of communication from an employer. 

The right extends to ignoring messages from third parties, such as customers, suppliers, students or parents in the case of teachers, or host employers in the case of labour hire. 

“Availability Creep”

In April 2021 Victoria Police made a concerted effort to address “availability creep” – where employees are increasingly expected to complete work outside of work hours – to allow its officers to “recharge and spend quality time away from work”. 

Employees of the Force welcomed an ‘availability allowance’ from 1 July 2021, required to be paid to employees who are contacted out of hours. 

It was in keeping with a long-term agreement in place for senior officers referred to as “contactability allowance”, designed to assist a work/life balance, deemed essential for good mental health of employees. 

Who first raised this new bill? 

Many countries in Europe, Asia, North America and South America have already established laws or regulations limiting employers contacting workers outside work hours. 

The Australian Greens party was the first to suggest Australia adopt this rule in 2023. As per Greens leader Adam Bandt, an agreement was reached between Labor, smaller parties and independents to support the Bill. 

Earlier this week, Opposition leader Peter Dutton indicated that the Liberal Party will look to have the new ruling overturned should they gain power in the 2025 Federal Election. 

*Some minor alterations to the Right to Dis­con­nect are being fore­shad­owed by industry experts, includ­ing the removal of the prospect of impris­on­ment for a breach of the right by an employ­er.

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