January 28, 2021
The EU Parliament has announced that it would like to protect what it calls employees’ fundamental rights to disconnect from work which includes restricting the way employers might contact staff outside their contracted working hours. Although the right to disconnect is not defined by EU law, the Parliament has called upon the Commission to come up with a law allowing employees to disconnect from work during non-work hours without consequences and setting minimum standards for remote work.
In its briefing, the Parliament claims that interruptions to non-working time and the extension of working hours can increase the risk of unremunerated overtime, can have a negative impact on health, work-life balance and rest from work; and called for the following measures:
- Employers should not require workers to be available outside their working time and co-workers should refrain from contacting colleagues for work purposes
- EU countries should ensure that workers who invoke their right to disconnect are protected from victimisation and other repercussions and that there are mechanisms in place to deal with complaints or breaches of the right to disconnect
- Remote professional learning and training activities must be counted as work activity and must not take place during overtime or days off without adequate compensation
While the briefing acknowledges that digital tools have increased efficiency and flexibility for employers and employees and safeguarded many businesses and jobs during the recent lockdowns, it claims that they have also created a ‘constantly on-call culture, with employees being easily reachable anytime and anywhere, including outside working hours’.
It cites data that shows over a third (37 percent) of workers in the EU started working from home during a lockdown with over a quarter (27 percent) having to work outside their regular working hours, worsening their work-life balance. The briefing claims that people who regularly work remotely 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 don’t.
The working time directive sets out a series of maximum working and minimum rest times including a maximum 48 working hours per week, a minimum 11 consecutive hours of daily rest and
at least four weeks paid annual leave per year.
Rest is essential for people’s wellbeing and constant connectivity to work has consequences on health. Sitting too long in front of the screen and working too much reduces concentration, causes cognitive and emotional overload and can lead to headaches, eye strain, fatigue, sleep deprivation, anxiety or burnout. In addition, a static posture and repetitive movements can cause muscle strain and musculoskeletal disorders, especially in working environments that don’t meet ergonomic standards. In addition, over 300 million people globally suffer from depression and work-related mental disorders, according to the briefing.