Digital disconnection: Regulating remote working on an EU level

By Efi Thoma, Senior Legal Advisor

One of the most fundamental EU principles is safeguarding a healthy work-life balance. EU law and specifically the pertinent directive on working hours, is based on the doctrine that work environment is being regulated in order to ensure that employees work maximum 48 working hours per week, enjoy minimum 11 consecutive hours of daily rest, and at least 4  weeks paid annual leave per year. The new working conditions adopted in Europe and around the globe in the direct aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak have focused on remote working for the majority of the employees. However, teleworking has never been so popular before and used at such extensive levels. Recent research has shown that 27% of people who work from home worked outside working hours, and employees who regularly telework are more than twice as likely to work more than the maximum working hours set down in the EU’s working time directive than those who don’t, resulting to increased stress, which can lead to depression or burnout.

Therefore, the need to regulate remote working at EU level emerged. More specifically, MEPs have called on the Commission, in a resolution of the 21st of January 2021, reaching an overwhelming majority, to propose a law that enables those who work digitally to disconnect outside their working hours, without any negative impact on them. The legislation should also establish minimum requirements for remote working and clarify working conditions, hours and rest periods. Before adopting a new law at EU level on the foregoing, it would be of paramount importance for employers to evaluate the current situation and adopt simultaneously a nοvel approach on work culture. Employers should allow themselves some time in parallel to the preparation of the new legislative approach of the EU to assess the new challenges brought by the pandemic as excellent opportunities to improve obsolete business practices, with the aim to introduce a flexible and more efficient outlook on work productivity.   

Employers who will opt to endorse a new modus operandi in terms of flexible working hours for employees who work remotely, respect of employees’ privacy outside working hours, permission of frequent breaks that employees enjoyed while working in offices, can contribute to a spectacular enhancement of employees’ creativity and productivity. It is an oxymoron the fact that businesses devote substantial amounts of time and money on choosing meticulously their employees, who are deemed as a perfect fit for open vacancies, to ultimately consider them untrustworthy and incapable of working from home, i.e. without any supervision and monitoring of their constant presence. Respect and trust on employees’ skills and capabilities is equivalent in effect to the respect and trust on employers’ skills and capabilities on selecting the latter.  Richard Branson, the business magnate in one of his inspirational quotes says that by putting the employee first, the customer effectively comes first by default, and in the end, the shareholder comes first by default as well. It is imperative to break the barriers of outdated practices and introduce a new work culture. The time has definitely come. (photo:pixabay)

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