Australia workers can ignore bosses' calls after work, employers can be fined for breaking rule

Sorry, I cannot hear you, I'm kinda busy.

Fiona Tan | February 08, 2024, 03:58 PM



Workers in Australia will soon enjoy more work-life balance.

Australian lawmakers legislated a "right to disconnect" law that grants all Australian workers the right to ignore their calls from their bosses after work, among others.

What is the right to disconnect

The right to disconnect is part of the "closing loopholes" bill which was passed on Feb. 8, 2024, The Guardian, Reuters and The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The new law protects all employees in Australia from being punished for ignoring their bosses' "unreasonable" attempts to contact them outside of paid work hours.

Employees who are contacted outside work hours or expected to answer after work can also raise a complaint with their employer.

If the issue persists, they can apply to Australia's Fair Work Commission for a "stop" order on the employer to stop unreasonable out-of-hours contact.

Employers found breaching the order may be fined.

Unreasonable vs reasonable

However, the line between what counts as reasonable and unreasonable may not be so clear.

Factors in deciding what is reasonable include how often a worker is contacted, how they are contacted, what they are being contacted about, the nature of their job description, if they are being paid or not, and the nature of their family responsibilities.

Barbara Pocock, workplace relations spokesperson for The Greens, the party responsible for the reform, said contact during an emergency or to change work conditions such as location or hours are reasonable.

Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Tony Burke echoed Pocock, saying it was reasonable for employers to send emails or contact people for shifts.

However, Burke said it was "unreasonable" to expect workers to work out of office hours.

S$80.6 billion lost due to unpaid overtime

Greens leader Adam Bandt said on X, formerly Twitter, that Australians work an average of six weeks unpaid overtime each year.

He said this equated to over AUD 92 billion (S$80.6 billion) in unpaid wages across the country's economy.

Closing loopholes bill

The closing loopholes bill also includes other provisions like minimum standards for temporary gig workers, such as pay, payment terms, penalty rates, superannuation and insurance, creating a single system to convert from casual full-time work, among others.

Pocock said the changes would be phased in over six months, to give employers time to "adapt, listen and learn", with a longer phase-in for small businesses.

Top image by Alvin Philemon