New Global Campaign is Fighting to Give People the Right to Disconnect from Work

If a new global campaign succeeds, employees who regularly receive after-hours work emails will no longer feel obligated to respond until they’re back at the office.

This week Switzerland-based UNI Global Union released “The Right to Disconnect” Best Practices, a 10-point guide on negotiating digital disconnection. It includes setting limits on employees’ use of electronic communication after the workday, and providing them with the right to not do any work-related activities at home.

“Workplace technologies can offer a freeing amount of flexibility, if they can control workers’ lives outside of the job,” said Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union, in a press release. “The right to disconnect is the new fight for the eight-hour workday, and just as unions led the way then, we are striving for a fair balance between work and life now. These best practices move us forward.”

In making their case, the organization acknowledged how tech and mobile devices are allowing employees to stay connected and work remotely all the time, blurring the boundaries between work and leisure. The consequences include workers feeling like they must check their business emails 24/7. And, that pressure to stay connected carries some psychosocial risks, such as anxiety, depression and burnout—which the World Health Organization started to recognize as an officially diagnosable condition in May of 2019.

Some recommendations the guide has for employers wanting to enforce the right includes utilizing technical solutions, such as shutting off company wide servers at the end of the day and doing regular status checks and employee questionnaires to make sure the policies are being implemented properly.

Another important point the guide raises is the right to disconnect policies should not be implemented in ways that could hurt women. They traditionally have more duties than men at home, and often will benefit from flexible work hours (such as leaving work early and reconnecting later at night to wrap up). The campaign believes “it’s important to have a gender and equal opportunities perspective in mind when introducing a right to disconnect to maximize the benefits, to avoid unintended negative consequences, and to promote family co-responsibility.”

Giving workers the right to disconnect isn’t a new concept. Spain and Italy already have legislated the right, and efforts to introduce it have been initiated in countries like Canada, India, the Philippines and Portugal, according to the guide.

Most notably, in France, the right to disconnect has been a legal right for employees since 2016. In 2001, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that “the employee is under no obligation either to accept working at home or to bring his files and working tools” and in 2004, it ruled that an employee can’t be reprimanded for being unreachable outside working hours. To provide a better understanding of how France approaches the idea of people working beyond business hours, we recently reported on a woman from Singapore who had just moved to France and started a new job. When she emailed her colleagues after 8 p.m., she was reported to HR and then reminded to stick to working during designated hours only!

However, as Alex Sirieys from FO-COM clarified in a press release, the French law “only provides a framework for negotiations about the right to disconnect, leaving it up to the unions to bargain collectively for an effective right in the workplace.” But with the help of the guide, workers won’t have to wait for legislation to negotiate for the right—they can start those important conversations today.

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