The conflict between the employee’s right to disconnect and the employer’s prerogative to dismiss for off-duty misconduct: A comparative study of South Africa, USA and UK

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Labour rights are an integral component of human rights, encompassing various entitlements for employees aimed at safeguarding them from potential exploitation by employers. Among these rights, the right to privacy and the right to disconnect from the workplace have gained prominence. The contemporary challenges posed by the widespread off-duty use of social media and the legalisation of private cannabis use (in some countries) have not only intensified the conflict between employees’ privacy rights and employers’ authority but have also underscored the relevance of the right to disconnect. As employees engage in off-duty activities that may inadvertently impact the workplace, the line between personal life and professional obligations becomes increasingly blurred. This becomes apparent when considering off-duty misconduct, where legal principles limit an employer’s disciplinary actions unless a clear detriment to business interests is demonstrated. The right to disconnect, which advocates for employees’ autonomy over their non-working hours, aligns with the need to address the evolving dynamics of off-duty conduct. The paper’s comparative analysis across jurisdictions, including South Africa and selected United States of America states aims to shed light on how legal frameworks navigate these complexities, emphasising the interconnectedness of the right to disconnect with contemporary
labour rights challenges.