The right to disconnect as a new fundamental right?

The European Parliament adopted a legislative initiative in January 2021 that calls the European Commission to propose a law on the “right to disconnect” in order to enable smart working employees to disconnect from work related activities outside their working hours.

According to the newest statistics, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home has increased by almost 30%. In relation to this, the Parliament, with its new legislative initiative intends to react on the newest effects of this increased level of digital presence in the employment world. The increased use of digital resources for employment purposes resulted in an “always-on” environment that effected significantly negatively the work-life balance of EU employees.

Even though remote working is one of the key solutions to maintain a safe and healthy working environment during the COVID-19 crisis, the long working hours and higher demands lead to multiplied number of cases of anxiety, depression, burnout and other mental and physical illnesses. The European Parliament believes that the “right to disconnect”, as a fundamental right may be able to protect the employees from executing work related tasks (such as phone calls or e-mails) outside their working hours (including holidays). The Parliament encourages Member States to take all of the necessary measures to enforce this right (e.g. via collective agreements).

The European Parliament reacted to the very core problem of the new challenges of the employment world: the pressure of being always available, even during extra working hours. According to rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba (S&D, MT), “it is time to update worker’s rights so that they correspond to the new realities of the digital age”.