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The right to disconnect

Written by Klaus Müller,

This EPRS Briefing relates to the subject of the legislative initiative report currently being prepared by the Employment and Social Affairs Committee (rapporteur: Alex Agius Saliba, S&D, Malta; 2019/2181(INL).

Key aspects

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According to Eurofound, the ‘right to disconnect’ refers to a worker’s right to be able to disconnect from work and refrain from engaging in work-related electronic communication, such as emails and other messages, during non-work hours and holidays.

Twenty years ago, it was exceptional (unless in the case of emergency) to contact an employee outside working hours, and even more so during weekends or holidays.

Today, many managers routinely contact employees/colleagues by e-mail or by phone after work, at the weekend and during holidays. In some companies/countries, ‘on call’ is becoming the new norm. Not infrequently, contracts oblige employees to be available after work, at the weekend and during holidays. Being prompt is associated with higher productivity and considered a necessary condition for career advancement; for this reason, some employees consent to taking on the burden of onerous work schedules that invade their private lives.

In 2019, 5.4 % of employed persons in the EU-27 aged 15-64, reported they ‘usually’ worked from home (Eurostat). This share remained constant at around 5 % throughout the 2009-2019 period. However, over the same period, the share of those who ‘sometimes’ worked from home gradually increased, from 6.0 % in 2009 to 9.0 % in 2019. The Netherlands and Finland topped the EU list for remote working, with 14.1 % of employed persons usually working from home in 2019. They were followed by Luxembourg (11.6 %) and Austria (9.9 %). By contrast, the lowest rates of home workers were reported in Bulgaria (0.5 %), Romania (0.8 %), Hungary (1.2 %), Cyprus (1.3 %), Croatia and Greece (both 1.9 %).

In 2020, the coronavirus crisis forced many (private and public) companies and organisations to switch to teleworking, there has been a recent spike in the number of teleworkers. According to the ‘Living, Working and COVID-19’ online survey carried out in April 2020 by Eurofound, 37 % of respondents started working from home during the lockdown. This increase was significantly higher in those countries that already had larger shares of teleworkers (see Figure 1). It is expected that teleworking will become increasingly common in the future.

The widespread increase in telework has positive and negative effects. Telework affords increased productivity, a better work-life balance and greater working-time autonomy. During the coronavirus crisis, teleworking has made it possible to maintain business continuity and employment. However, it can blur the boundaries between people’s professional and private lives.

Read the complete briefing on ‘The right to disconnect‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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