Live to work?

In the Republic of Ireland a business executive was awarded €7,500 by the Labour Court against her employers, Kepak Convenience Foods Unlimited, after being expected to deal with out of hours emails, which led to her working in excess of 48 hours per week in breach of Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 The decision was on foot of an appeal of the Adjudication Officer’s award of €6,240.

The executive submitted that that she worked close to 60 hours per week and in support of her claim she exhibited copies of emails that she sent to and/or received from her employers after hours on numerous occasions including some emails sent after midnight.

The company submitted that the volume of work undertaken by the executive was in line with that untaken by other members of staff none of whom worked in excess of 48 hours per week and that the executive adopted a less efficient reporting procedure for completing her administrative tasks.

The Labour Court however noted that the company did not produce a full file of the executive’s emails and offered no evidence to contradict her evidence in this regard.

The judgement is likely to cause concern in some quarters however with the advent of smartphones many employees can find themselves on call 24/7 which is unfair and, in the US in particular, is increasingly being linked with poor health outcomes caused by stress related conditions and overwork. It is also not conducive to a healthy work – family life balance and erodes employee rights.

In Ireland employees are entitled to an uninterrupted 11 hour break between finishing work and starting again the following day. The workplace landscape is evolving and many people now work flexibly or remotely and many are expected to engage with global offices on different time zones. Nonetheless the employer is still obliged to obey the law and it would be prudent to take steps to ensure that policies are in place to ensure compliance.

Most people have on occasion found themselves working in excess of their contracted hours however it is when occasional becomes constant that issues arise. Employers and employees both have obligations in this regard although it is the employer who stands to have a judgement made against them in the event of non-compliance.

If you have any queries about your rights as an employee or your obligations as an employer feel free to contact our employment team for further advice.