A bill by Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei seeking to limit employers’ ability to contact employees during out-of-work hours is attracting stiff opposition from the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE).

According to Cherargei, the bill boosts labour protection by promoting work-life balance, eliminating unfair practices and ensuring employees are compensated for overtime. Employers under the FKE umbrella, however, accuse the Senate of seeking to encroach into the management of enterprises, and highlight the changing dynamics of the work environment in 2023 – as organizations today define work hours differently.

The Employment (Amendment) Bill, 2022 seeks to amend section 27 of the Employment Act, 2007 by introducing employees’ ‘right to disconnect’ – allowing them not to respond to work-related communication including calls, texts and emails past their official work hours. It also wants employers to put in place a framework specifying the nature of compensation for employees who work overtime and to to explain circumstances when employers may contact employees during out-of-work hours.

“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 reads in part, with a stipulation that contact during out-of-work hours should be to address emergencies within the employee’s duties.

The bill further states that in cases where no specific work hours are set for the employee, if the employer contacts an employee, the latter shall not be obliged to respond and, if one chooses to, they shall be entitled to compensation.

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It pushes employers, particularly those with more than ten employees, to engage employees and their unions and develop policies on overtime and contact during out-of-work hours.

“Where an employer has more than ten employees, such employer shall, in formulating a policy, consult the respective employees or, where applicable, trade union,” it states.

FKE Executive Director Jacqueline Mugo voiced opposition to the bill, stating that it would hinder labour relations and negatively impact plans to cut unemployment. She maintains that employers should be able to run their operations as they see fit.

“FKE does not agree with the proposed amendments because they not only present radical changes to the Employment Act 2007, but also introduce new stringent measures that will curtail the prerogative to manage enterprises by the owners. This will automatically pose a challenge to industrial relations in Kenya,” Mugo stated.

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