Is it an employer’s responsibility to ensure employees have a good work life balance?

Is it the employer’s responsibility to ensure employees have a good work life balance?

Since March 2020 we have experienced the significant shift to working from home, which, in part, is expected to continue indefinitely. This move is now a hot topic of debate. According to the Office for National Statistics, in April 2020, 46.6% of people in employment did some work at home and of those who did some work from home, 86.0% did so as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Many employees are reporting that removing their commute and having their work station so accessible has meant that they are in fact putting in more hours than ever before. Many employees have also been reporting an increase in their workload and working hours as a result of colleagues being placed on furlough and their work being distributed to others in the team or the influx of work when returning from furlough. The Office for National statistics has reported that around one-third of those working from home claimed to be working more hours than usual.

There is now an increased drive amongst unions and employees alike for England to be following suit of other jurisdictions such as Ireland and implementing a ‘’right to disconnect’’ for employees. This would establish a legal requirement for employers to negotiate with staff and agree rules on when people cannot be contacted for work purposes.

As you will know from our previous guidance, we are a firm that cares greatly about our own employees’ wellbeing and we actively encourage our clients to do the same.  However,  are employers really responsible for ensuring their workers have a good work life balance?

The information set out in this bulletin is accurate as at 11 June 2021.

So, what is work life balance?

The concept of ‘’work life balance’’ means different things to different people.  Some people associate having a better work life balance with working less hours, whereas others believe they would have a better work life balance if they could be more flexible with their working hours.  Moreover, many employees report that it is not only the number of hours they spend working, but rather the high levels of stress they experience at work which can influence their personal lives and their ability to enjoy a good work life balance.

Your employees may view their work as the only consistent and stable part of their lives right now and may be putting in the extra hours as a welcome escape from the realities of lockdowns and ‘’the new normal’’.  

We are all unique and have different needs, expectations, drivers, and aspirations.

Your employees’ statutory rights

We set out below a summary of the key rights under the Working Time Regulations 1998 which apply to working hours irrespective of whether your employees work remotely or in the office.  You must:-

  1. Allow your workers the following rest periods:
  • 11 hours’ uninterrupted rest per day;
  • 24 hours’ uninterrupted rest per week (or 48 hours’ uninterrupted rest per fortnight); and
  • a rest break of 20 minutes when working more than six hours per day.

There are limited exemptions and your workers cannot contract out of these rights.

  1. Allow workers 5.6 weeks’ (28 days) paid holiday each year, pro-rated for your part time workers.
  1. Ensure that each of your worker’s average working time (including overtime and work with other employers) does not exceed 48 hours per week. Many employees opt out of this provision of the Working Time Regulations, however conscientious employers should keep in mind the spirit of the legislation when it was drafted – ensuring protection of workers’ health and safety.

As a bare minimum you should be ensuring your workers are receiving the above and if you do not, the repercussions can be severe as you risk being reported to the Health and Safety Executive and face possible criminal fines.

Your duty of care

Employers have a duty of care to their employees, which extends to supporting their health, safety and wellbeing.

This duty of care imposes wide ranging obligations on employers but includes specifically, ensuring your employees are not working excessive hours.

Research has linked regularly working long and unsocial hours, working excessive hours and being given too much work, with mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression. This can become a serious concern for organisations, especially when an employee’s mental health condition becomes a disability under the Equality Act 2010.  To be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010, it has to be a physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on an individual’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.  Mental health conditions often qualify as disabilities under the Equality Act 2010.  When they do, an employer may be under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to the way the employee works, such as reduced hours and workload. If employers do not make these adjustments, they are at risk of a claim in the Employment Tribunal.  Employers can face an award of compensation including for injury to feelings and potentially an award for personal injury, if the employer is at any fault in causing the condition.

An employer’s risks are therefore great.  Employees may resort to raising grievances and/or resign. In the most severe cases employees may bring claims for disability discrimination and constructive dismissal in the Employment Tribunal.  An employer may also be liable for any accidents that occur or any mental health issues that follow as result of employees working excessive hours.

Not only is there a legal obligation to ensure healthy working practices, it is also conducive to increased levels of job satisfaction and, in turn, increased employee productivity. Creating and maintaining a healthy and positive work environment will also reinforce staff loyalty and improve employee retention.

How can you support your employees having a good work life balance?

So, are employers really responsible for ensuring their employees have a good work life balance?  We would say yes, to an extent.  In many workplaces, working hours are fluid and employees are given a great deal of freedom to work extra hours and perhaps given welcomed incentives to do so.  However, this can sometimes verge on unhealthy working habits and employers should have practices and policies in place to monitor this and ensure they are protecting the health and safety of their employees and are not in breach of the Working Time Regulations.

We have listed below some examples of good working practices you can implement to support your employees’ work life balance:

  • Regular communication with your employees to ensure that they are being given an achievable level of work and confirming that they are completing the work given in a reasonable amount of time, and if not, why not? You may find employees require additional support that you were not aware of.
  • Monitoring the working hours of your employees. This can be as simple as ensuring your managers are overseeing the email flow within teams including the times in which emails are being sent and having regular conversations with their teams about hours worked.
  • Promoting healthy habits and lead by example, including where possible, only contacting your employees during core working hours.
  • Where reasonably practicable to do so, implementing provisions for flexible working, including allowing your employees to:
  • work flexible hours or flexitime;
  • work compressed working weeks;
  • take time off in lieu;
  • take career breaks/sabbaticals; or
  • work reduced hours for a limited period of time.

All adjustments to working practices must be considered within the confines of each individual organisation and the individual needs of those which they employ. Many of the above require a level of trust, good management and robust employment policies to be in place.  Jones Chase can assist your organisation with creating such a policy, if needed.

The Future

This is all written at a time when the ‘’right to disconnect’’ has not been implemented in England and so employers should definitely watch this space, as some of the above examples of what employers could be doing to promote a healthy work life balance may very well be set to become a legal requirement.  

Bespoke consultation / free employment law webinars

If you require advice on any of the above, want assistance with implementing a particular policy or strategy, or have any questions, please feel free to get in touch.  We would be delighted to provide you with a bespoke consultation on your options and a tailored plan to benefit your business.

About the firm

Jones Chase is a specialist employment law firm based in the centre of London with an excellent track record of looking after those that we assist.

We fundamentally believe in helping both businesses and people with all their employment law needs.

Feel free to contact us should you require further information or need any assistance. We are always happy to speak to people and point them in the right direction.