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“Right to Disconnect” Bill – A look into Australia’s new working hour bill and how it stacks up against New Zealand Employment law

Our phones make us contactable at all hours, and COVID-19 has taught us that office workers can work from pretty much anywhere.  The Australian Senate recognised that this blurs the lines of “working hours” and passed the Right to Disconnect Bill.  The Bill gives employees protection to ignore calls, texts and/or emails after hours without fear of penalty. 

In this article, we look at the Bill and how it stacks up against our laws in New Zealand regarding working hours.

Right to Disconnect Bill (Australia)

The Right to Disconnect Bill has been introduced in Australia in response to the growing connectedness created by phones and social media.  Under the Bill, employees can ignore any after-hours calls/emails and/or text messages from their employer, and there can be no retribution from the employer and/or detriment to an employee’s role or progression.  In fact, an employer could be fined AU$18,000 if an employee successfully raises concerns regarding an employer’s after-hours contact.

What is the situation closer to home?

While France, Italy and Belgium have taken a similar approach to Australia, we have yet to jump on this bandwagon here in Aotearoa.

Under the Employment Relations Act 2000, New Zealand employees have the right to work no more than 40 hours per week – unless otherwise agreed.  Since 2016, Zero-Hour Contracts have been prohibited – an employer can no longer require an employee to work whatever hours are required, whenever.  There must be a number of “guaranteed hours” for an employee, and any additional hours and availability requirements must be agreed and compensated. 

Many salaried employees have provision in their Employment Agreement that they may be required to work additional hours to meet the demands of the business/perform their role effectively.  In these provisions, employees agree that their salary compensates them for that extra availability.

Practically speaking, work hours and expectations are best managed where there is honest and positive discussions between employers and employees from the outset of an employment relationship.  For example, some employees may seek flexibility in their working hours or arrangements to attend to personal matters during work hours.  The reasonable trade off for that may be that there is an email or two to check after hours.  Again, positive communication and reasonable expectations – in line with the values or aspirations of an organisation - can go a long way toward avoiding issues in this respect.  If there are queries in your workplace, a policy in this respect may be useful to provide that clarity.

Employment law assistance

Our Workplace Law Team is able to assist with all working hour-related employment pātai that you may have.  We are also available to discuss employment processes and any other bespoke employment queries.

Chantelle is a Senior Solicitor in our Workplace Law Team and can be contacted on 07 958 7473.

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