Civil servants working for the Scottish government have become the first in Britain to win the right to ignore work emails and phone calls after the end of the working day.
Under a new agreement brokered with unions, managers have been formally told employees have a “right to disconnect” and not be hassled after the end of their contracted hours.
It comes amid concern that the proliferation of email and smartphones is creating an “always on” culture in some jobs that extends the workday and exploits workers.
New guidance included in the Scottish government’s public sector pay policy 2023-23 makes clear that staff should not be pressured into working outside their normal hours.
It also states that all employees have a duty to respect others’ downtime by not calling their colleagues, or expecting responses to emails outside of work hours.
“The Right to Disconnect policy creates a safety net for staff to ensure nobody is placed under pressure or compelled to work in ways or times that are atypical for them,” said Richard Hardy, Scottish secretary of the civil service union Prospect, on behalf of the Council of Scottish Government Unions.
A “right to disconnect” is a demand of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which estimated in 2019 that UK workers put in more than £32 billion of unpaid overtime a year.
The Scottish Government is thought to be the first public sector employer in the UK to formally implement the policy. It announced in the spring of this year that it was exploring the approach.
Under the agreement, employees can be contacted in exceptional circumstances only – for example if an office is shut.
They could also be called upon if contact was agreed in advance or if they are explicitly meant to be on call.
Pollster Ipsos MORI found in March that 60 per cent of UK adults support a statutory right to disconnect for all employees, with just one in 10 against such a measure.
Andrew Pakes, research director at the union Prospect, said: “This agreement, the first of its kind in the UK, is an important step on the road to reclaiming our home life from the encroachment of modern technology. We all benefit from that technology but good working practices have lagged well behind its introduction into the workplace.
“Being unable to switch off is a huge cause of workplace stress which inevitably impacts performance and productivity. It’s time the UK government and other employers followed the Scottish Government’s lead – it’s a move that will benefit them in the long run as well as being the right thing to do for workers.”