Employment Discrimination Blog

Friday, January 10, 2020

The Right to Disconnect

Do I have to answer work emails at home?

Technology today has made some jobs far easier, while other jobs have become more stressful with the elimination between work and home. Our ever-connected world allows employers to reach employees at all times of the day and night. This seeming 24/7 availability puts much strain on employees, leaving them feeling that there is no “off” time. In an effort to improve employee’s mental state, some countries and companies have created “right to disconnect” laws that give employees the right to ignore work calls and emails after hours. Our Atlanta employment law attorneys discuss right to disconnect laws and how they might benefit you in the future below.

The Harmful Effects of an “Always On” Work Culture

Before the advent of cell phones and the internet, when an employee went home, they were generally off the clock. Family time could remain their sole focus. Today’s employees can be reached at any time, and studies now show that even if they are not bothered at home, the fact that they can be leads to stress. A study conducted by a Virginia Tech researcher found that the implicit expectation that an employee could potentially be contacted after hours can trigger anxiety.

Right to Disconnect Laws

To combat worker stress and dissatisfaction, some countries have created what is termed “right to disconnect” laws. France has been an early leader in the movement towards protecting an employee’s right to disconnect. Back in 2004, France declared that it would not be considered misconduct if an employee could not be reached outside of work hours. In 2017, France passed a law that suggests employees and employers negotiate whether the employee will be reachable outside of the office and incorporate these agreements in the employment contract. Italy has taken a similar approach. Germany too has protected employees outside the workplace.

A recent bill brought by a New York City councilman proposes making it illegal for employers to require that employees be contactable by email outside of work hours. Violation of the rule would result in fines to the employer. This bill may well go through many changes as it progresses on the path towards becoming a law. Whether the law ever passes or not, it is representative of a greater trend towards defining employer expectations for employees outside of the workplace.

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