Written By – Aishwarya Patel
More than 65,000 government employees in Belgium have the right to be unavailable at the
conclusion of the workday as of February 1st. That is, they have the legal right to ignore work-
related emails and phone calls and to entirely disconnect from work – unless there are
“extraordinary” circumstances. Belgium is now the latest country to embrace a new paradigm of
promoting a healthier work culture.
The “right to disconnect” advocates for a work culture that isn’t based on “continuous availability,”
in which employees aren’t forced to live under the constant burden of “being connected in.” The
pandemic and the ability to work from home have changed the way we work —and how we should
think about labour. “The effect will be stress and burnout, and this is the actual disease of today,”
according to Petra De Sutter, the Belgian minister of public administration.
Employers in Portugal were “barred” from phoning or messaging workers after work last year, as
doing so would result in fines. However, no legal rights were provided as a result of the procedure.
Other European countries, such as France and Italy, have a “right to disconnect” in some form.
Volkswagen and Daimler have deliberately implemented “disconnect from work” measures, such as
preventing mail servers from delivering emails to employees after they have completed their work.
“Now is the time to stand by their side and give them what they deserve: the freedom to
disconnect,” said Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba, who led the vote at the time.
If that’s the case, will the policies ever be hashed out in a way that protects employees’ interests? As Saliba points out, it may be a matter of “updating” people’s rights. When the landscape of work culture coexists with a pandemic involving acute mental illness, the discourse about disconnecting from work looks very different today.