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“When I joined the police force 27 years ago, you’d only receive an out-of-hours call from your boss about something that was really significant, such as if your gun were missing from the armoury." 
 
“It was a world in which mobile phones weren’t commonplace, computers were little more than word processors and people would think nothing of telling you off for disturbing their private lives." 
 
“Nowadays, everyone’s got a direct line to everyone else, whether that’s by calling, texting or emailing. Consequently, we’ve relaxed our communication protocols, society has undergone cultural changes and people are more open to their colleagues contacting them away from work."
 
"We’ve developed a culture of always being on duty. What would’ve been a note in my locker in 1995 would be a text to my mobile when I’m off duty in 2022. The right to disconnect gives us permission to manage what’s become the societal norm and culturally acceptable."
 
"It’s not the norm, and it’s not acceptable.”
 
 
Those are the words of Wayne Gatt, who utilised the negotiation skills he honed upholding the right as a Victoria Police sergeant to broker the inclusion of a right-to-disconnect clause in the Victoria Police (Police Officers, Protective Services Officers, Police Reservists and Police Recruits) Enterprise Agreement 2019 as Secretary of The Police Association Victoria (TPAV), our Garden State equivalent.
 
The right to disconnect refers to the right of employees to disengage from their work and not receive or answer any work-related calls, texts or emails outside their agreed working hours.
 
Technological developments and mobile devices have enabled employees to perform their work anywhere and at any time. While there are benefits with this flexible approach, it risks eroding the barriers between work time and leisure time.
 
In many workplaces, there’s also an implicit or explicit expectation to check messages at home and at night, as well as during holidays. This constant connection and ensuing lack of rest carry important psychosocial risks for employees, including anxiety, depression and burnout.
 
The right to disconnect establishes boundaries around the use of employer-to-employee communications outside rostered working hours. It’s often looked upon as an individual right of the employee to not only disconnect but also not be reprimanded for failing to connect or rewarded for constantly 
staying connected. 
 
France was the birthplace of the right to disconnect. In 2016, the Valls Government passed a labour law that, among other provisions, included the right to disconnect (le droit de la déconnexion).
 
While the 2016 labour law confirmed the right to disconnect, it’d been a 2004 judgement of the Court of Cassation that had introduced the concept to French policy makers. France’s highest court found an employee’s failure to answer his work phone outside his agreed working hours wasn’t a valid reason for his employer to fire him.
 
The right to disconnect is codified into article L2242-17 of France’s Labour Code. The code doesn’t define its implementation, leaving employers and employees to determine the arrangements that best suit their respective needs.
 
Indeed, article L2242-17 simply requires annual negotiations between employers and employees to determine the limits between the latter’s work lives and personal lives. However, French authorities take the right to disconnect seriously, as a 2018 Court of Cassation ruling that an employee is entitled to extra pay whenever they’re asked to be available to take work-related calls outside their rostered working hours shows.
 
The court ordered the French arm of pest control company Rentokil Initial to pay €60,000 in compensation to its former regional director. Different countries have taken different approaches regarding right-to-disconnect policies. For example, Italy, Ireland and Spain have followed France’s lead, each introducing legislation that grants employees the right not to respond to work-related communications outside their agreed working hours without the fear of penalty.
 
In Germany, it’s companies that have shown the greatest initiative, with chief executives of many German organisations, including Daimler, Siemens and Volkswagen, negotiating with unions about what policies to implement to ensure employees feel able to disconnect. 
 
There are multiple ways for employers to implement and enforce a right to disconnect. Some employers encourage disconnection but don’t monitor it. Some employers engage in regular status checks and employee questionnaires. Some employers use technological solutions, including shutting 
down their company’s email servers at the end of the formal working day, although that’s an extreme case.
 
While Mr Gatt and his TPAV colleagues, both directors and staff, were developing their union’s log of claims for the Victoria Police (Police Officers, Protective Services Officers, Police Reservists and Police Recruits) Enterprise Agreement 2019, it became clear the members whom they represent coveted something more than money.
 
They wanted Victoria Police to respect their downtime.
 
“Most out-of-hours contacts employers make to employees are contacts of convenience, not essentiality. Even in policing, the majority of matters can wait until the next shift,” said Mr Gatt.
 
“We canvassed our members, both face to face at branch meetings and through electronic surveys, and while they wanted more money in their pay packets, what they wanted most of all was the right to disconnect from their high-pressure work lives because all the money in the world is useless if you’re not alive to spend it.”
 
Initially, TPAV’s negotiators received a frosty reception from their Victoria Police counterparts whenever they discussed incorporating a right to disconnect in the Victoria Police (Police Officers, Protective Services Officers, Police Reservists and Police Recruits) Enterprise Agreement 2019.
 
It took quite some time before Victoria Police warmed to the idea, but eventually, the employer saw its merit.
 
“Any provision like this gets the hackles up of the powers that be. At first, it was met with alarm from Victoria Police chiefs. However, we argued the always-on-duty culture they oversaw was killing people slowly and they should do something about it. We proposed a right to disconnect we believed would create not only a less stressed workforce but also a more resilient workforce,” said Mr Gatt.
 
Operational since April 2020, the Victoria Police (Police Officers, Protective Services Officers, Police Reservists and Police Recruits) Enterprise Agreement 2019 contains the following clause:
 
59. Right to disconnect outside of effective working hours for protective services officers, constables, senior constables, sergeants and senior sergeants
59.1 Supervisors and managers must respect employees’ periods of leave and rest days.
59.2 Other than in emergency situations or genuine welfare matters, employees must not be contacted outside of the employee’s hours of work unless the employee is in receipt of an availability allowance pursuant to clause 56.
59.3 Employees are not required to read or respond to emails or phone calls outside their effective working hours. 
 
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Deb Day is uniquely positioned to assess the right to disconnect because it came into effect near the end of her 33-year Victoria Police career, just before she joined TPAV as a field officer.
 
Ms Day, whose husband is a Victoria Police homicide detective, was a senior sergeant and officer in charge prior to leaving the force to work for our sister union. She embraced the right to disconnect from the moment the Fair Work Commission registered the Victoria Police (Police Officers, Protective Services Officers, Police Reservists and Police Recruits) Enterprise Agreement 2019 and it became law.
 
“I had to have my work-life balance right for my family to function. You can’t have a work-life balance if your employer is continually ringing you, emailing you, texting you when you’re on your rest days because you meant to be focusing on other things,” said Ms Day.
 
“When the clause came in, I was over the moon because it made it easy for me to disconnect. When I’d leave the office, I’d turn off my work phone. Sometimes I’d leave my work phone on my desk, so when people would ring my phone, it’d ring out in the office, and they’d leave a message. The out-of-office message on my emails would say I’m disconnected. The people who’d need to speak with me in the event of a crisis had my personal mobile phone number.
 
“My out-of-office message was important because it meant people weren’t calling me on my rest days to ask low-level questions or advise me about stuff I didn’t need to know there and then.”
 
 
Now as a TPAV staff member, Ms Day spends her professional life assisting Victoria Police officers with employment-related matters, including educating all ranks about the right to disconnect.
 
“A vast number of our contacts from officers is about managers breaching the agreement and contacting them while they’re at home. They don’t want it, they’re annoyed with it, and they reach out to us because they want something done about it,” said Ms Day.
 
“So, it’s part of a big education piece for us to remind managers of the right-to-disconnect clause and that unless it’s an emergency, they shouldn’t contact officers who are on rest days or leave.
 
“The education piece also includes the officers who are at home. Every frontline officer is issued with an Apple iPad Mini as part of their operational kit. They can take these devices home, and they do take them home. They check their work emails on them and then ring us to complain about the content of those messages. We implore them to stop checking their work emails at home when they should be disconnecting from their stressful jobs.”
 
Mr Gatt agrees with Ms Day that TPAV, Victoria Police and their respective members and employees are learning together. 
 
“Is the right-to-disconnect clause working? It won’t work all the time and there are areas of grey. But it’s not designed to be an overnight switch that’s going to alter three decades of change It’s designed to reduce the intrusions and help the employer, Victoria Police, and its employees, our members, get to a good place,” said Mr Gatt.
 
“Now’s not the best time to assess the impact of the rightto-disconnect clause because we’re responding to what’s a one-in-a-100-year emergency, but there are definitely fewer unnecessary communications despite the challenges associated with COVID-19. 
 
“Our members are becoming more knowledgeable about the right to disconnect, more literate about the issues and more comfortable with pushing back. They’re on a journey, and so are their bosses.”
 
A right-to-disconnect clause like the one active in Victoria is near the top of our industrial agenda, and last year, Chris Dawson APM, Commissioner of Police, committed to engaging with us about such a policy during the term of the Western Australia Police Force Industrial Agreement 2021, which is due to expire in June.
 
Mick Kelly, President of the WA Police Union, is passionate  about the right to disconnect and how it’d benefit the entire WA police family.
 
“The right to disconnect goes beyond recognising employees shouldn’t be contacted whatever the time. The right to disconnect not only removes the need for an immediate response from employees but also protects them against any detriment for being unreachable. Instead of managers simply not expecting a response from workers outside the latter’s rostered working hours, workers are actively encouraged not to respond outside those hours,” said Mr Kelly.
 
“The right to disconnect can benefit both individual employees and organisations as a whole. Establishing an effective worklife balance for employees is likely to reduce staff burnout and overload, leading to a more productive workforce. The reduced pressure may have further benefits such as higher staff retention rates and increased employee morale, as well as a feeling from employees their employer recognises and support their mental health.
 
“The right to disconnect is the right thing to do for all employers, including the WA Police Force, which care about their employees.”