WITH DECISION NUMBER 2019/281 (INL) OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
“RIGHT TO DISCONNECT OF EMPLOYEES”
A. General Framework
The European Parliament published a report containing recommendations on the “Right to Disconnect” of employees on January 21, 2021. In the preparation of this report; the absence of a specific union law regarding the right of employees to disconnect, the blurring of the boundaries of work and private life with the digitalization of business life, the use of digital tools for business purposes more than ever, an increase in uses that can have a detrimental effect on employees’ basic and fair work rights, such as “incessantly connected”, “incessantly online” or “incessantly on the job”, the decrease in concentration as a result of using digital tools for a long time, and also the cognitive and emotional overload have played a big role. Although this report is a recommendation to the member states of the European Union to take action on this issue, the right to disconnect the employee after the report became popular around the world and started to be discussed with great interest. In the Report, the employee’s right to disconnect was comprehensively discussed in many different aspects with all its requirements, and as a result, a draft Directive with 14 articles was included.
B. What is Right to Disconnect?
The “Right to Disconnect” refers to the right of employees not to engage in work-related activities or communicate outside working hours through digital tools such as phone calls, e-mails or other messages, and aims to ensure the separation of private life and business life. It is treated as a fundamental right that is an integral part of new working models in the digital age. Within the scope of the right to disconnect, it is particularly emphasized in the report that it allows employees to refrain from work-related tasks, activities and electronic communication such as phone calls, e-mails and other messages during non-working hours, including rest periods, official and annual holidays, maternity and paternity leave. Within the framework of these criteria, the European Parliament stated that the “Right to Disconnect” should be seen as a social policy tool at the Union level in order to ensure the protection of all employees.
C. Scope and Conclusion
The main issues emphasized in the report published by the Parliament are the separation of employees’ work lives and private lives, influencing the physical and psychological conditions of employees, overtime and wages. Digitalization and the use of digital tools have brought many economic and social benefits and advantages to employers and employees, such as increased flexibility and autonomy in business life, the potential to improve work-life balance, and shortening of commuting times. However, it has been determined that this situation also causes a series of ethical, legal and employment-related difficulties, such as the intensification of work and the extension of working hours, which also brings with it disadvantages, thus blurring the boundaries between work and private life. It was stated that this digital transition should be directed in accordance with fundamental rights and especially human rights values in order to ensure fair remuneration, limiting working time and ensuring work-life balance. In addition, it has been stated that using these digital tools for a long time causes decreased concentration and cognitive/emotional overload. Mentioning the psychological and physical effects of the report, they stated that excessive use of technological devices can aggravate the phenomena such as isolation, techno-addiction, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety and burnout. According to the statements of the World Health Organization included in the report, it is stated that more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression and common work-related mental illnesses, and 32% of the European Union population suffers from a mental illness every year. Employees’ right to disconnect is vital to protect their physical
and mental health and well-being and to protect them from psychological risks. Because continuous connectivity, high job demands and increasing expectation that employees can be reached at any time, it has been shed light that it can adversely affect the basic rights, work-life balance, physical and mental health and well-being of employees.
According to the research of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofund), which is included in another report; 27% of work-from-home employees also work in their spare time to meet job demands. Here, the problem of the right to rest, which is the most basic right of employees, arises. It was stated that the working hours (48 hours per week according to EU rules) should be kept within the agreed legal limits, and the working hours should be kept appropriately in order not to exceed these periods. The Parliament emphasized that the “Right to Disconnect” should also be considered in the context of gender. Therefore, in order to create a better work-life balance, recognizing that the needs of employees differ greatly and, in this context, develop a clear framework that promotes personal flexibility as well as the protection of employees’ rights and that connectivity and accessibility levels should not constitute an element of discrimination in terms of hiring or career development highlighted. An important point is the determination that not only employers but also employees’ colleagues have the right to refrain from communicating with colleagues outside of working hours about work-related matters.
The European Parliament called for the member states to carry out a joint study on the protection of employees’ rights within the scope of the “Right to Disconnect” and the determination of the minimum conditions for remote working, and then the report was concluded by including the 14-article Directive.