As work phones and the integration of technology into work life becomes ever more necessary, the effect on employees has become an issue. Smartphones are causing more and more conflicts between employees and employers due to employees being encouraged to exceed the number of hours that they have been contracted to work. This has led to question can employees ever switch off?

Smartphones, although a vital part of modern working life, have also led to some workers working above their contracted hours. A recent case in Ireland saw a business executive be granted €7,500 after successfully arguing that she was obliged to deal with out of hours work emails. Some of the e-mails were even past midnight.

Although not physically being at work, the use of her smartphone out of hours meant that she was working more than the maximum of 48 hours a week. This case demonstrates that many people are being exposed to longer working hours. Perhaps even some people may not be aware of the extra hours of work which they do by checking e-mails, responding to calls etc.

The line between work and leisure however, may become blurred. Many people may believe that they have to use their smartphone above and beyond their contracted hours in order to fill the duty of their roll. Many employers may also argue the fact that the heavy use of smartphones in the social sphere could make it difficult to determine whether the ‘extra work’ being carried out could have been undertaken in ordinary working hours.

Cases such as these could be set to be on the increase as many employers are set to turn away from traditional modes of work. For instance, at PwC, landlines have been disconnected and up to 18,000 UK staff being given smartphones.

The CIPD published a report that found a third of employees in the UK were feeling that they could not switch off in their personal time and 40% of employees checked their work mobile or emails at least five times a day outside of working hours.

Despite this, many recognised the benefit of the smartphones: that they helped them work productively and flexibly. The Working Time Regulation 1998 which specifies that the maximum working hours a week is 48, unless the employee has opted-out.

If an employee is unable to attend social events or leisure activities due to their work phone then this could be held as working time. Case law or policy might dictate that employees in such scenario’s will need either opt-out or the Working Time Regs or turn the phone off.