Disconnect from Work

Published on 8th May 2018

As part of our Future of Work campaign, Osborne Clarke is tackling the changes and opportunities that technology brings to the workplace. We see an opportunity for employers as a result of the new legislation around disconnecting from work. Proactively putting this item on the agenda of the Health and Safety Committee is not just about legal compliance: in today’s marketplace, the savvy employer with a coherent and attractive policy on disconnecting can stand out when recruiting top talent.

What does it cover?

Digital burn-out is a real issue for the modern workplace and if employers get it wrong, it may prove costly – potentially damaging an employee’s health and perhaps causing them to make serious mistakes. Employers keen to attract top talent will also want to make their workplace as attractive as possible.

On 26 March 2018, a new law was adopted implementing the obligation for an employer to put the item “disconnected from work” and the use of digital communication tools on the agenda of the Health and Safety Committee. In particular, it concerns the company policy regarding the availability of the employee in their private time, after the regular working time. The use of mobile phones, smart phones and laptops means that employees tend to be more available for work when the normal working day is over.

However, introducing and using such technology effectively will also require employers to educate employees as to its benefits and downsides, whilst taking particular care of privacy and data protection issues.

The purpose of the discussion within the HSC is to ensure that the annual holidays and resting time (weekends) are respected and to allow employees to maintain a work-life balance. On the basis of these discussions that must take place on a regular basis, the HSC can give advice and suggestions to the employer. A policy or collective bargaining agreement in this regard can be closed, or the work regulation can contain provisions in this regard.

What should employers do?

In our view, the envisaged measures that the company can propose in the context of these discussions can include both binding and non-binding options.

In the first category of binding options, we see the following possibilities:

  • blocking remote connections outside of the regular working hours (weekend, annual leave),
  • organising days without email,
  • establishing an obligation to disconnect during meetings, or
  • prohibiting sending emails using the “reply all” button.

The other category (less binding) could include:

  • hosting trainings of your staff and management to raise awareness about the use of communication tools,
  • issuing best practices on the use of email and social media,
  • ensuring that the employees use their "out of office" properly, by diverting the sent email to a colleague mailbox in order not to be disturbed during their leave (for example, through an automatic reply to the sender inviting them to contact another person during the recipient's absence),
  • accompanying emails with the use of the words “not urgent”, or “urgent” or “no response needed”,
  • organising training within the company for the employees in order clarify not only how the technology put at their disposal should be used but also when it should be deployed to prevent excessive use, what is expected of the employees in terms of responsiveness,
  • ensuring that teams are properly resourced, particularly during holiday periods where the absence of employees may place pressure on others. This can be done by implementing an efficient and coordinated holiday/leave policy determining the guidelines on the timing for holiday request, the requirement to put the leave visible in the employee's agenda, and the steps to be undertaken by the employee to ensure a correct follow-up of the pending files with his colleagues.

What next?

This new law entered into force on 9 April 2018. Please let us know if we can help you with the implementation of a disconnection policy in your company.

We are organising an event in our Brussels offices on 19 June on the "Right to disconnect?". More information about this will follow shortly.

This newsletter was prepared by Johanna Van Herreweghen, Senior Associate.

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* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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