On January the 21st, 2021, the European Parliament voted a resolution, 2019/2181(INL), containing recommendations to the European Commission on the Right to Disconnect. These recommendations are concerning the new requested directive on the Right to Disconnect. It should be noted that, currently, a specific legislation related to the Smart-Worker’s Right to Disconnect does not exist.
The European Parliament has underlined “the risks associated with the growing use of digital tools for work purposes: greater workload, longer or unpredictable working hours, and an always-on culture“. The European Parliament Briefing on the Right to disconnect explains that “according to the ‘Living, Working and COVID-19’ online survey carried out in April 2020 by Eurofound, 37% of respondents started working from home during the lockdown. This increase was significantly higher in those countries that already had larger shares of teleworkers“.
Remote work has allowed employees and professionals to work safely. However, many workers are still paying a high price, when we consider increase of burn-out, depression, techno-addition, sleep disorders, and musculoskeletal disorders cases. Besides, workers, who have young children, were forced to work in horrific conditions, not having family or external support when the primary schools or nurseries were closed. (Lena Hipp & Mareike Bünning, 2021, Landivar LC, Ruppanner L, Scarborough WJ, Collins C, 2020). In this last case, gender inequality has been accentuated, given that, frequently, the home and children management task is assigned only to the women.
Right to Disconnect Definition
Following the “Eurofund” definition, the Right to Disconnect is “the right to disconnect refers to a worker’s right to be able to disengage from work and refrain from engaging in work-related electronic communications, such as emails or other messages, during non-work hours”. It should be underlined that during the Covid-19 Pandemic, the web conference tools were widely implemented. Among the electronic communication above mentioned, the Web Conference tools should be included. Indeed, in this last year, the smart-workers have been passed many hours connected in the Web Conference platforms and sometimes in their extra-working hours.
Currently there isn’t a specific Right to Disconnect legislation. However, The Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC) is foreseeing some rights directly or indirectly related to the Right to Disconnect as the minimum daily and weekly rest periods. Finally, in the European Pillar of the Social Rights, principles 9 (work-life balance) and 10 (healthy, safe, and well-adapted work environment and data protection) are strongly connected to the Right to Disconnect.
According to the work-life balance principle, “parents and people with caring responsibilities have the Right to suitable leave, flexible working arrangements and access to care services. Women and men shall have equal access to special leaves of absence to fulfill their caring responsibilities and be encouraged to use them in a balanced way“.
Concerning the principle n. 10, then, it should be reported that “workers have the Right to a high level of protection of their health and safety at work. Workers have the Right to a working environment adapted to their professional needs and which enables them to prolong their participation in the labor market. Workers have the Right to have their personal data protected in the employment context“.
An EU Directive on the Right to Disconnect…
First of all, the Right to Disconnect directive is foreseeing dispositions concerning Measures implementing the Right to disconnect (article 4). Then, the same directive is providing a Protection against adverse treatment disposition (article 5), stating that “The Member States shall ensure that discrimination, less favorable treatment, dismissal and other adverse measures by employers on the ground that workers have exercised or have sought to exercise their right to disconnect are prohibited“. Other important dispositions provided in this directive are the Right to Redress (article 6) and the Obligation to Provide Information (article 7).
According to the European Parliament, the Right to disconnect is a fundamental right. It is desirable that in the next future, the European Institutions and mainly the European Commission are deciding to update the European Charter of the Fundamental Rights, including in its text also the Right to disconnect. The Right to Disconnect future Directive would be an important improvement in the smart-workers life, so it is hoped that its legislation is concluded before the end of the current year.