Kenyan workers stand to benefit should a new Bill be passed into law prohibiting employers from contacting their employees outside working hours.
Fronted by Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei, The Employment (Amendment) Bill, 2022 proposes that an employee has a right to disregard calls or any other form of communication such as email or text from their employer to perform some duties after working hours.
“Where an employer contacts an employee during the period when there is no mutually agreed out of work hours, the employee shall not be obliged to respond,” the Bill reads in part.
The Bill defines “out of work hours” as hours other than those agreed upon between an employer and an employee in the contract of employment.
Senator Cherargei says the Bill seeks to address increased employee burnout and promote a healthy work-life balance for employees.
“Digital connectivity has also been noted to be slowly eroding leisure time for employees hence affecting their work-life balance,” the Bill notes.
“The principal object of the Bill is to provide for the right to disconnect in the digital age. The right of employees to have their personal time and privacy respected,” Cherargei said.
Additionally, the lawmaker wants employers to formulate policies outlining the circumstances under which the right to disconnect may be waived and specify the nature of compensation for employees who work overtime.
The bill also states that when an employer has no specific work-hour arrangement with an employee, the latter is not obligated to respond to work-related communications outside of regular office hours and is entitled to compensation for doing so.
“An employee shall not be reprimanded, punished, or subjected to disciplinary action if the employee disregards a work related communication during out of work hours,” the Bill states, with the proviso that such contact should be to address an emergency within the employee’s responsibility.
The Bill proposes that those who violate the aforementioned law will face a year in prison, a Sh500,000 fine, or both.
“A person who contravenes this section commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to both.”
Senator Cherargei had previously moved a similar Bill, The Employment (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which failed to sail through.
The Senate is currently collecting opinions about the proposal from stakeholders and members of the public.
The Bill has received opposition from the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE), which argues that the law will aggravate the employment situation for the youth and women in Kenya.
“If the nature of the business requires such shift system or extension of working time to meet the business demands, then such prescriptive nature will kill enterprises,” FKE Executive Director Jacqueline Mugo said.
“The Bill will have an unintended adverse consequence on employment of youths and women in this country and who are most vulnerable. The sectors and nature of work to be highly impacted by this Bill are the low to middle level skilled and service sector operations. These areas predominantly employ youth and women in Kenya,” she added.