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The Right to Disconnect in Europe

What’s your policy on out-of-hours, work-related electronic communication? This issue rose above the legal horizon back in 2017. That’s when France became the first country in Europe to implement a law protecting employees from all forms of e-comms outside agreed working hours.

No SMS. No emails. No Teams. In France, employees have the right to disconnect.

It’s clear that this principle offers wellbeing benefits to employees. But it also has problematic consequences, particularly in the world of the hybrid workplace. How does it work for employees with children, who want to compress their hours? How does it work for employees working across international time zones?

In its current form, the French law is frustratingly vague – perhaps because it is one of the first of its kind. It states that employers who have 50+ employees must negotiate the right to disconnect with their employees on an annual basis. But there’s no obligation to reach an agreement. Nonetheless, the employer must still set out a policy on its right to disconnect without specific guidelines with a view to ensure compliance with rest periods and leave, as well as personal and family life.

In 2018, a France-based employee of a British company was awarded €60k after being required to permanently leave his telephone on to respond to requests from his subordinates and customers. The judge characterised this as a breach of the right to disconnect.

So, why does this matter to you?

If you’re a cross-border employer with employees based in the European Union, this issue should be on your radar. Right now, following a resolution from the European Parliament, the European Commission is looking into creating a Directive requiring all EU member states to regulate on the right to disconnect.

At the moment, no timelines have been given, but when this Directive comes into being, all EU employees will gain out-of-hours e-comms legal protection. So, now is the time to plan ahead:

o Look at the working hours policies of your EU-based employees

o Consider whether you have a fair and flexible way of accommodating the principle of work-life balance

o If you don’t, consider how best to update your policies with this principle in mind.

Find out more about cross-border employment

At PEO Legal, we provide legal and compliance advice for professional employer organisations and staffing companies around the world. If you want advice about the Right to Disconnect - or any other point of cross-border employment law - contact us, today.


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