With more than one-third of EU workers now operating from home, MEPs are calling to enshrine the right to disconnect in law.
A worker’s legal right to ignore calls or emails outside of working hours – often referred to as the right to disconnect – could soon become a right under EU law. It comes as a non-legislative resolution was adopted on 2 December by MEPs of the employment committee with 31 votes in favour, 6 against and 18 abstentions.
This aims to ensure that workers are able to exercise the right to disconnect effectively, including by means of collective agreements. MEPs stated that this is vital to protecting the health of workers, particularly following the Covid-19 pandemic when more than one-third of EU workers now work from home.
The employee committee argued that the culture of being ‘always on’ and growing expectations that an employee should be contactable at all times puts a strain on physical and mental health.
MEPs are now calling on the European Commission (EC) to propose an EU directive on the right to disconnect as there is currently no legal basis for it. They also stressed that being able to switch off from work should be a fundamental right, without facing repercussions from employers.
Following the passing of the resolution, a vote is expected to be held in a plenary session of the European Parliament next month and, if endorsed, will be put forward to the EC and EU countries for implementation as part of future regulatory decisions.
Efforts behind the resolution were led by Malta MEP Alex Agius Saliba, a member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.
Reacting to a ‘new reality’
Speaking of its importance, he said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work and we must update our rules to catch up with the new reality.
“After months of teleworking, many workers are now suffering from negative side effects such as isolation, fatigue, depression, burnout, muscular or eye illnesses. The pressure to always be reachable, always available, is mounting.”
The right to disconnect is already in place for workers in France, where companies with more than 50 employees must guarantee workers the right to disconnect from technology when they leave the office.
In Ireland in 2018, a Kepak subsidiary was ordered by the Labour Court to pay €7,500 to one of its business executives who said she experienced burnout after working close to 60 hours a week and handling emails after midnight.
At the time, the ruling was said to be “a massive wake-up call to employers who expect employees to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week”.