Right To Disconnect: Longer Working Hours, Increased Workloads & Mental Fatigue

Longer working hours and increasing workloads in the 21st century have taken a toll on workers around the globe. The demand for a Right to Disconnect in the ‘Work From Home’ era has found a foothold in many countries under the sun. This article discusses the ongoing developments of this movement across some major countries worldwide.

The Right To Disconnect And Its Origin

The right to disconnect can be described as the basic right of a worker or an employee to disengage himself from his workplace after his scheduled working hours. In other words, it not mandatory for them to accept phone calls, respond to emails, or any other mode of communication, related to their work.

The Labour Chamber of the French Supreme Court, in the year 2001, concluded that no employee could be obligated to respond to phone calls/emails regarding work when they are at home. They passed a law stating that “the fact that [the employee] was not reachable on his cell phone outside working hours cannot be considered as misconduct.”

Increasing Workloads, Mental Health Issues And The Right To Disconnect In The Covid-19 Era

A study conducted by the International Labour Organization found that the total number of workers engaged in home-based jobs (260 million workers) has nearly doubled during the pandemic and the resulting “work from home” era. The working hours, therefore, have exceeded well beyond the usual.

We all know that excessive stress, unlimited workload, and sleep deprivation may lead to ailments like anxiety and depression. Prospect, a Trade Union based in Britain, conducted a poll among office-based employees who had shifted to remote work after the pandemic: 42% of them stated that the “inability to switch off from work” was the major reason for the degradation of their mental health.

Hence, alongside the increasing number of enterprises and organizations deciding to award “remote jobs” a permanent place in the years to come, several countries across the world have decided to grant their workers a Right to Disconnect.

Right to Disconnect – UK

Like in other countries, workers in the UK have raised their voices, demanding a Right to Disconnect. A poll conducted by Opinium stated that 66% (two-thirds) of employees engaged in remote work had voted in favor of a Right to Disconnect. Ireland has passed a law granting all workers the right not to answer phone calls, emails, or other work-related messages outside the normal working hours. Prospect, a trade union, wrote to Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary of the UK, pleading him to introduce a policy like that of Ireland. They also urged him to ensure the inclusion of the policy in the employment bill, as mentioned in the Queen’s speech. However, the right to disconnect (UK) continues to be unavailable for the workers, and it seems that it will take some time for such a law to come into existence in the UK. 

Right to Disconnect – Canada

The Canadian government has established a committee, the Right to Disconnect Advisory Committee, comprising business leaders as well as union members. They aim to establish a few rules to help workers disengage themselves from their workplace after regular working hours. Filomena Tassi, the Canadian Minister of Labor, wishes to develop a policy about the workers’ Right to Disconnect, together in consultation with labor organizations/groups as well as regulated employees.

Right to Disconnect – US

Like many other countries, the USA has not been able to introduce any law regarding the Right to Disconnect. Nevertheless, Councilman Rafael L. Espinal Jr. from New York City has introduced a bill named the “Right to Disconnect.” According to Espinal, “Technology has really blurred the lines between our work hours and personal time.” The bills he proposed, if passed, will make it unlawful for all private organizations and enterprises, with a workforce of fewer than ten members, to make it obligatory for their employees, especially those engaged in remote jobs, to respond to phone calls/texts/emails outside the regular working hours. It appears to be a step in the right direction for employees. 

Final Words

With the prevalence of the pandemic and the increasing number of employees being pushed to work from home, the right to disconnect issue is gaining further ground with every passing moment. A handful of countries have passed laws allowing workers to disengage themselves from their workplaces outside working hours, and a lot of nations are likely to follow suit, given the increased voices of employees and workers worldwide who want a clear demarcation between their work and personal lives.

About Author

Marina is a bibliophile and a technology enthusiast. She has worked as a member of the Editorial Team of a magazine, Kaleidoscope, and is currently working as a freelance writer. She loves to write in various niches, among which technology happens to be her personal favorite. She is still in the process of learning and looks forward to experiences to gather in the years to come.


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