In our most recent podcast (August 2023), a panel of experienced employment lawyers discussed various legal tools that can help maintain the work-life balance and to what extent evolutions are noticeable in this respect, for instance following the corona crisis. This article summarises the key points discussed in the podcast with regards to the Right to disconnect.
In Italy, the Right to disconnect has been regulated as early as 2017. The law in question, essentially dealing with Remote Work (no. 81/2017), established that remote working must be agreed in writing, containing the employee«s rest period as well as the technical and organizational measures aimed at ensuring the employee«s right to disconnect from working devices.
Three years later, the Italian Privacy Authority pointed out that it was necessary to ensure the Right to disconnect in a more clear-cut way to better protect the Work-Life Balance. A Law Decree (no. 30) issued in March 2021 stated that employees have the right to disconnect from their working devices without having to face negative consequences on their salary or employment relationship. By the end of 2021, the »National protocol on remote working« regulated that remote working must be organized in time slots such as to guarantee a disconnection slot. Even in the event of legitimate absences from work, employees have the right to disconnect their working devices and are not obliged to respond to communications received from the employer.
Similarly, the Right to disconnect in Belgium was also established in several phases. In 2018, a duty to discuss about the Right to disconnect in the committee for prevention and protection was introduced. However, there was no duty to concretise a true Right to disconnect. In 2022, a true Right to disconnect was established for federal civil servants first. Later, in 2023, the Right to disconnect was introduced in the private sector, leaving the social partners with the task of arranging the practical modalities, guidelines and education in collective bargaining agreements or (changes in) company labour regulations.
On the other side of the Canal, things haven't come as far (yet).
A Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect came into effect in Ireland as of April 2021, without being legally binding. However, it could be used as evidence in personal injury or constructive dismissal or working time proceedings.
In the UK, a recent campaign by a union called Prospect found that 59 percent of employees supported the idea of the Right to disconnect. Thinktank Autonomy have been pushing for the Right to disconnect as a result of its research conducted post-pandemic around burnout, working beyond normal hours, affecting mental health and wellbeing. Nevertheless, the UK is still a little way off from having a formal Right to disconnect. The Labour Party stated they plan to legislate a Right to disconnect policy of they win the next election.
Work-Life Balance Podcast
Listen to the Work-Life Balance podcast chaired by Jef Michielsen (BE – Bellaw) and with contributions from Inge Derde (BE – Bellaw), Anna Cozzi (IT – Daverio&Florio), Naomi Latham (UK – CM Murray) and Bernadette Daly (IE – CC Solicitors).