The right to disconnect

In “A Europe Fit for the Digital Age”

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The digital transformation has had a huge impact on the world of work. As a consequence of the Covid-19 outbreak many companies and organisations switched to teleworking. 

There is currently no EU legal framework directly defining and regulating the right to switch off. The Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC), however, refers to a number of rights that indirectly relate to similar issues: in particular, the minimum daily and weekly rest periods that are required in order to safeguard workers’ health and safety. Furthermore, the right to switch off should be considered in relation to attaining a better work–life balance, an objective that has been at the core of recent European initiatives – for example, Principles 9 (work–life balance) and 10 (healthy, safe and well-adapted work environment and data protection) of the European Pillar of Social Rights, as well as the directive on work–life balance for parents and carers – although they do not refer specifically to the right to switch off. Articles 153 and 154 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) could be the basis for the adoption of directives setting out minimum requirements, as well as supporting and complementing the activities of the Member States in the area of working conditions.

Under the European Parliament's right of legislative initiative, Parliament's Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) prepared a draft report with a wide consultation of stakeholders. It seeks to reaffirm the right of no professional solicitation outside working time with full respect for working time legislation and working time provisions in collective agreements and contractual arrangements. It sets minimum requirements on the use of digital tools for professional purposes outside working time, which over time aim at creating a culture that avoids out of hours contact. It aims to further address workers' rights to fair working conditions and employers' duties and  obligations. It emphasises the important  role of social partners for the implementation of the right to disconnect and of the need for tailor-made solutions as regards to companies' specific needs and constraints depending on the different national and regional levels, sectors and industries.

At its January 2021 plenary Parliament adopted the report with 472 votes in favour, 126 against and 83 abstentions. It calls on the Commission to put forward a proposal for a directive on minimum standards and conditions to ensure that workers are able to exercise effectively their right to disconnect and to regulate the use of existing and new digital tools for work purposes.

In the Action Plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights of 4 March 2021, the European Commission foresees an appropriate follow-up on the Parliament's legislative proposal. 

The Commission, in a letter of 25 March 2021 from VP Šefčovič, committed to follow up Parliament’s initiative. As a first step, by inviting social partners “to find commonly agreed solutions to address the challenges raised by telework, digitalisation and the right to disconnect.” It would use the insights gathered to reflect on  a potential EU legislative initiative on the right to disconnect, within the broader context of remote work”, in particular in the context of a future implementation report of the Working Time Directive. Only then, based on the evidence collected, the Commission “may proceed with a first stage of the formal Social Partners Consultation under Article 154 TFEU, in view of a possible Commission proposal addressing the requests of the resolution.

In June 2021 the Council adopted conclusions that highlight that recent increase in telework makes it necessary to consider its  potential, limits and risks. The conclusions call on Member States to consider:

  • establishing national action plans or strategies addressing the opportunities and risks related to telework, taking into account the gender perspective, or including this topic in existing or upcoming strategies;
  • amending their policies regulating telework or issuing guidance, for instance with regard to the organisation and monitoring of working time, risks related to equality between women and men, and allowances to cover the costs of teleworking where applicable;
  • establishing or reinforcing initiatives to strengthen labour inspection and occupational health and safety in view of the risks arising from telework.

The Council also called on the Commission to analyse the context and implications of telework in the EU and the extent to which current social and labour law in the EU ensures decent working conditions for teleworkers.

In June 2022, three European employers’ organisations signed a social dialogue agreement with European trade union representatives, with a commitment to negotiate a legally binding agreement on telework in the form of a directive. The idea was to update the 2002 Autonomous Agreement on Telework, adopt it as a legally binding agreement and then ask the Commission to transcribe it into a European directive, as foreseen in the European rules on social dialogue. 

However, after more than a year, the negotiations failed. EU trade unions representative reported in November 2023 that two of the employers’ organisations (BusinessEurope and SME United) refused to put forward any text. Therefore, they called on the Commission to initiate legislative action. 

On Tuesday 12 December 2023, the Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, assured MEPs in plenary that the Commission would follow up the commitments given by the President, Ursula von der Leyen, to legislate on the right to disconnect.

 

Further reading: 

Author: Marketa Pape, Members' Research Service, legislative-train@europarl.europa.eu

As of 20/03/2024.