Working holidays: a dangerous culture?

Now that many workers’ smartphones connect them with their office inbox 24/7, the boundary between time off and work is increasingly blurred. The norm seems to be to check work emails whilst on holidays and it is not difficult from there to be dragged into actually working whilst on holidays.

The Working Time Regulations 1998 established the right to 20 days’ paid holidays in addition to the 8 statutory bank holidays. These regulations, based on the European Working Time directive recognise rest and holidays periods as measures necessary to guarantee the health and safety of workers.

From a legal point of view, it is not possible for employees to contract out of their statutory holiday entitlement. Therefore, workers who are contacted by their employer on holidays could argue that their employer has refused to permit them to take their statutory holiday entitlement in breach of the Working Time Regulations. However, if workers choose to work while on holiday, although they are not required to do so by their employer, then they would not be able to bring such a claim.

Whilst smartphones may allow employers to call their employees on urgent matters during their holidays, employers should be mindful of the implications this feeling of being ‘on call’ may have on their workforce. Holidays are about ‘switching off’ and recharging batteries. If this is no longer the case, employers may have to deal, not only with less productive workers but also with increased levels of work-related stress.

That said, for some, working on holiday is less stressful than the pressures of getting things done before going away or returning to a mountain of work afterwards.

The safest approach from a legal point of view, would be for employers to implement a policy prohibiting working on holiday. This black and white approach however is unlikely to suit either workers or businesses and a better approach might be for businesses to encourage a culture of employees not working or communicating with work whilst on holiday except where absolutely necessary.

Emmanuelle Ries from ebl miller rosenfalck is co-editor of Workforce Restructuring in Europe, which published in September 2015.

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