‘Right to disconnect’ could help those working from home separate work from their personal life, expert says

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A landmark change to Australian workers rights could have a major impact on the thousands who work from home, according to an expert.

From August, Australians working at large organisations will be legally protected against answering calls, texts and emails from their bosses after hours deemed “unreasonable” when it comes into effect.

For those working at a small business, the provision will kick in from August 2025.

The Fair Work Commission can get involved if disputes aren’t resolved within workplaces, and employers could be slapped with an $18,000 fine for failing to comply with orders.

Professor Emmanuel Josserand, director of the Business Insights Institute at UNSW Business School, said described the new right as really important particularly given the shift to hybrid work after Covid.

“Hybrid work arrangements are much more frequent, people spend more time at home. So the boundaries between work and lifestyle are blurred,” he said.

“It’s good in the sense that you get more flexibility to both businesses and employees — everybody sees the virtue of hybrid work and working more from home.

“But by the same token, it creates a condition where … work and life becomes more meshed together, it can become harder for people to disconnect.”

About 37 per cent of Australians work from home regularly, which has declined slightly from 2022 levels, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Professor Josserand noted there had been a rise in mental health issues associated with work following the pandemic, and this bill could help create a “positive, virtuous circle” where people can commit to their work as well as take the time to disconnect and recharge.

“If people don’t recharge, they’re more stressed. They bring their stress to work. And it’s not a nice dynamic,” he said.

However, he noted some businesses have already expressed concerns over the new laws.

“Some businesses have raised concern that it could hinder productivity and communication, particularly in fast-paced or client-facing environments,” Professor Josserand said.

“However, the legislation does allow for some exemptions for urgent matters. The key is establishing clear guidelines and expectations around after-hours communication within organisations.”

He added the move could change workplace culture at some organisations.

“It will actually make some managers realise … ‘Do I really need to call this person, or can it wait until Monday when they are back, can it wait until tomorrow?’

“I think at several levels we can change the culture of organisations.

“Most organisations will line up their practices with what’s good for their staff, what’s good for their business, and also what’s required.”