Right to Disconnect Legislation in Europe
In just a few years, the world of work has transformed with remote work allowing many people to continue to work in their sector during unprecedented times. However, one concern that has come to light is the right to disconnect.
Remote working and the right to disconnect is not new in Europe. In fact, many European countries have had some form of right to disconnect legislation in place for some time. However, the number of people continuously working from home in Europe has risen dramatically since the pandemic which has put pressure on people’s work life balance. As a result, the need to discuss and implement right to disconnect legislation has become a focus across the region. In this post, we look at the European countries that currently have the right to disconnect legislation in place as well as focusing on the next steps.
What is Right to Disconnect?
The right to disconnect refers to legislation that allow workers to disconnect from their work and to not receive or answer any work-related emails, calls, or messages outside of normal working hours. It establishes boundaries between a person’s work and life, and protects them against any negative repercussions for disconnecting from their job.
During the pandemic, people’s personal and professional lives became blurred and as a result they worked longer hours. While productivity was high for some time, working long hours continuously can have repercussions for the worker including stress and burnout in the workforce. With the growing ‘always on ‘culture where workers are expected to respond to emails, phone calls and texts after work has ended, more legislation for disconnecting from work needs to be in place.
While there is currently no legal framework in the EU regulating the right to disconnect, many European countries have already implemented their own right to disconnect legislation nationally. Below, we look at the right to disconnect legislation some European countries have in place.
France was the first European country to introduce legislation on the right to disconnect. Since January 2017, France has legally required employers to negotiate agreements with unions for a right to disconnect from technology after working hours.
After the French legislation was published, Italy was the next country to introduce a right to disconnect in 2017. The legislation states that only remote workers have the right to disconnect from technological devices and from online platforms without suffering any consequences with regard to their employment status or compensation. There are also sectoral and company-level collective agreements that provide for the right to disconnect.
The next country to adopt the right to disconnect legislation was Spain. In 2018, along with the transposing the GDPR into Spanish law, a new set of digital rights was introduced. Workers in both the private and public sectors were given the right to disconnect to maintain their work life balance.
Belgium was the next country to introduce some legislation. In 2018, the law made it mandatory for employers with more than 50 employees to discuss the issue of disconnection and the use of digital tools with the workplace health and safety committee. However, employees in Belgium thus have a right to discuss issues of disconnection with their employers, but they do not have a right to disconnect. In 2022, a new law passed in Belgium, which allows civil servants to switch off work emails, texts and phone calls received out of hours, without fear of reprisals. Plans are being discussed to extend the new laws to employees in the private sector.
In April 2021, the Irish government announced the new code of practice that all employees officially had the right to disconnect from work to have a better work life balance. The new code ensured that employees had the right to switch off from work outside of normal working hours, including the right to not respond immediately to emails, telephone calls or other messages.
The code also stated that the employee should not have to routinely perform work outside their normal working hours, and have the right not to be penalised for refusing to attend to work matters outside of normal working hours and that there is a duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect (for example: by not routinely emailing or calling outside normal working hours).
In December 2021, the Portuguese parliament introduced new legislation surrounding remote work. One of the pieces of legislation that went into effect in January 2022 was the right to privacy. The Labour Code now stipulates those employers must refrain from contacting employees during their rest period, except in case of force majeure. Companies that breach this right could face fines of up to €4,080. It has become a serious offense for employers to violate the employee’s privacy.
As you can see from above, right to disconnect legislation varies in each country. One country has chosen to focus on legislation for public workers, others have focused on employee numbers. Other countries such as Portugal have introduced fines while others have not. Since the explosion of working from home during the pandemic, governments in European countries have focused on bringing in new policies to reflect the new world of work. Other EU member states are still in discussion about national legislation. While the EU parliament itself has also had some discussion surrounding legal framework of right to disconnect, nothing further has been introduced.
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