Bosses won’t be able contact employees outside of work hours except in exceptional circumstances, according to a proposed law for civil servants in Belgium.
A “Right to Disconnect” will be introduced for civil workers from the 1st of February by the Green Party’s Minister of Civil Service Petra De Sutter, according to a memo seen by Belgium newspaper De Morgen.
The memo states that these workers can only be "contacted outside normal working hours in exceptional and unforeseen circumstances, and where action is required that cannot wait until the next working period", and that employees “should not be disadvantaged” if they do not respond to contact outside work hours.
De Sutter’s memo says the move hopes to allow “better focus, better recuperation and a more sustainable energy level,” but doesn’t specify penalties for employees who break these rules.
These principles will be enshrined in law, according to De Sutter, in order to combat “excessive work stress and burn-out.”
Although the rule only affects civil servants, there is hope it could be rolled out to private sector employees. Belgium unions are concerned that extending the law to all employees will be a challenge.
“This decision taken for public sector workers is very important [and] opens up a real right to disconnect for 65,000 federal civil servants,” president of the Belgian union FGTB-ABVV, Thierry Bodson, told VICE World News.
“This is a step forward, but it cannot be automatically applied to other workers in Belgium. For workers in the private sector, several laws will have to be amended to allow this right to disconnect. Our union wants to extend this rule or principle to the private sector, but the legislative path will be longer and much more complex.”
More and more European countries have introduced a “right to disconnect” law, with an increase in the number of employees working from home during the pandemic accelerating its adoption. Most recently, Portugal introduced the legislation as part of a wider set of laws hoping to improve working conditions, while France has implemented the law since 2016.