New amendment enables employees to refuse after-hours contact from employers
The Australian government is set to make the right to disconnect a reality for Australians as the Senate passed the second Closing Loopholes bill despite strong opposition from employers.
The bill's passing comes after majority of senators expressed their approval to the legislation, which included a last-minute introduction to the right to disconnect proposal.
The Green Party, which advocated for its introduction, said the amendment grants employees the right to refuse contact from their employer out of hours unless that refusal is unreasonable.
In deciding for reasonable contact, the party said factors including reason for contact, the level of contact, compensation, job role and responsibility, and workers' personal circumstances will be considered.
"Where the issue cannot be resolved at the workplace, and the behaviour continues, the Fair Work Commission can issue stop orders," the party said in a previous statement. "If they are breached, the normal civil remedies of the Fair Work system will apply."
Improving work-life balance with right to disconnect
Senator Barbara Pocock said the bill is expected to benefit "millions of Australian workers" who need backup when they want to refuse 24/7 contact from their employer.
"The right is clear, practical, and reasonable. It will make a difference for workers who are not paid for being available and who donate many unpaid hours to their workplace," Pocock said in a statement.
In introducing the right to disconnect, Australia joins the list of nations that have implemented similar policies in workplace.
"This change will help workers protect their mental health and improve work-life balance. It will especially help those in insecure jobs who need that legislative backup," Pocock said.
Opposition from businesses to amendment
The bill's passing comes amid strong opposition from employers, who called out the last-minute introduction of the right-to-disconnect amendment, as well as the lack of consultation held over it.
Bran Black, chief executive of Business Council Australia, said the amendment will leave employers "thinking" about what can be considered reasonable after-hours contact.
"They'll be thinking about that because, as I say, there hasn't been the right type of process for consultation. And it's through these types of consultation processes that you get these issues ironed out," Black told reporters.
The chief executive clarified that businesses aren't opposed to switching off after hours, but he also underscored the importance of getting policies implemented properly.
"What we would have liked to have seen, of course, is a proper consultation, followed by legislation, followed by an opportunity to consider that legislation," he said.
Preparing for right to disconnect
"Clear and open communication is key to navigating this terrain," Thompson said in a statement to HRD. "Employers can prepare policies around tech use outside of agreed working hours and encourage boundary setting. This includes the understanding that, unless expressly stated, after-hours communication does not warrant an immediate response."
The CEO noted that while flexible work arrangements gave employees more autonomy over their time, it should not lead to them working more hours than they are compensated for.
"A balanced approach is required - one that respects employees' rights to disconnect while preserving the advantages of flexible work and creating less complexity for managers," he said.
The Closing Loopholes Bill No. 2 is set to return to the House of Representatives for approval of amendments before it gets passed into law, The Guardian reported.