In the future, the right to disconnect shall reduce the negative aspects of telework and working from the home. On 21 January 2021, the European Parliament approved a corresponding report of the Employment Committee.
Telework and working from home have significantly increased due to the Coronavirus crisis. According to Eurofund, in July 2020 alone, 34 % of employees worked exclusively from home. However, apart from obvious benefits such as flexibility and autonomy, telework also takes its toll on employees’ health and puts worker protection at risk. Hence, employees working from home were more frequently affected by physical problems, work-related stress and sleep problems than those working in an office.
Negative impact on work-life balance
Due to the pandemic, more people than ever have been working from home, thereby increasing the number of working hours at weekends and evenings. Quite often it is difficult to maintain the boundaries between private and professional life in one’s own four walls. This has also been demonstrated by a current Survey of the Chamber of Labour and the Institute for Empirical Social Studies (IFES) in May 2020: the majority of respondents said that compared to working from home, the clear separation of work and leisure time by working in an office was probably better (26 %) or clearly better (40 %).
As early as autumn 2017, an online survey conducted by the Chamber of Labour and IFES on permanent availability showed that work-related interruptions during leisure time are as unwanted as they are commonplace. Hence, what can be supportive against occurring illegal practices in this context is a respective EU Directive ensuring that employees (not only) in case of telework are guaranteed a right to disconnect.
EP Employment Committee sees a need for action
In December 2020, the EU Parliament’s Employment Committee had approved an EP Initiative Report on the right to disconnect by a clear majority (rapporteur MEP Alex Agius Saliba). MEPs were against the trend of permanent availability and asked the EU Commission to submit a Proposal for a Directive. MEPs also pointed out that the involvement of social partners when implementing such regulation was indispensable. Prior to this, the EU Parliament had also submitted a thematic Briefing, which depicts the existing legal and problem situation.
Debate and vote in EP Plenum
This week’s (20./21.1.21) agenda of the Plenum of the European Parliament included debate and votes on the EP Report: The Report was adopted with 472 Yes-votes, 126 No-votes and 83 abstentions. This means that the entirety of MEPs has followed the Employment Committee and asked the EU to legally enshrine the right to disconnect. After the vote, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) asked the EU Commission to present a legislative proposal as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, the EU Parliament- within the scope of a plenary vote – has also voted in favour of an amendment, which asks the Commission to delay the legislative proposal for three years. Prior to the vote, ETUC had warned against this compromise amendment. Also prior to the vote, MEP Evelyn Regner had criticised the lobby pressure by employers’ associations in this matter. In spite of this adverse amendment, Isabelle Schömann (ETUC) emphasizes that the positive aspects of the report, which “paves the way for EU legislation and requires legal minimum standards” prevail.
AK-IFES: Survey on working independent of time and place (only in German)