New European Legislative Initiative – Right to Disconnect From Work
The right to disconnect is not defined in the EU law. On January 21, 2021, the European Parliament has requested the Commission to come up with a law that would expressly envisage workers’ right to disconnect. The right to disconnect is a proposed human right regarding the ability of people to disconnect from work and primarily not to engage in work-related electronic communications such as e-mails or messages during non-work hours.
Alongside other COVID-19 pandemic consequences upon social life, the biggest change we are experiencing is in the world of work that will never be the same again. While working from home / teleworking has offered greater flexibility, it has also blurred the distinction between private and professional. Research data have revealed the fact that, since the outbreak of the pandemic, working from home has not only been dramatically increasing, but it is also expected to remain high or even increase. People who regularly telework are more than twice as likely to work more than the maximum working hours set down in the EU’s working time directive than those who do not.
The European Parliament has recently reemphasized that digital tools have increased efficiency and flexibility for employers and employees, but also threaten to affect the work-life balance by the created constant on-call culture, thus leading to a series of negative effects on workers’ health.
This background has pointed out the need to have formal rules for the employees’ right to disconnect, that is to digitally disconnect from work without facing negative repercussions. The right to disconnect is a fundamental right that allows workers to refrain from engaging in work-related tasks – such as phone calls, emails and other digital communication – outside working hours. This includes holidays and other forms of leave. Member states are encouraged to take all necessary measures to allow workers to exercise this right and ensure that they will not be subjected to discrimination, criticism, dismissal, or other adverse actions by employers. The law should also establish minimum requirements for remote working and clarify working conditions, hours and rest periods.
At this moment, there is no existing EU legislation that would directly address the scope or timing of work-related electronic communication between employers and employees.
However, the legislative relevant context that should be analyzed when introducing such control mechanism over the working hours and that should be considered is:
- At a general level, Principle 10 of the European Pillar of Social Rights (healthy, safe and well-adapted work environment and data protection), and also the Directive on Work-Life Balance for Parents and Carers could be considered only as creating the premises of an extensive legal development within this area.
- On a more focused perspective, the Working Time Directive (WTD, 2003/88/EC), which, although it stresses how the working time concept should be perceived by both employees and employers and lays down maximum working hours and minimum daily and weekly rest periods, does only indirectly relate to the right to disconnect.
Although there have been many attempts over the years to rather protect working hours from workers’ private lives, in the current social context the focus has switched to the protection of the employees’ private life and work-life balance. As more people are expected to work from home after the pandemic, the proposal has been welcomed by most countries as a step forward in the right direction, towards a healthy work-life balance and sound working conditions in the new digitized world.