The right to disconnect: which countries have legislated?
The right to disconnect was first introduced into Belgian law in 2018. Since then, employers in the private sector have had an obligation to organise consultations ‘at regular intervals’ within their health and safety committee regarding the right to disconnect and the use of digital means of communication. Despite this measure, only a few employers in Belgium had an internal policy or set of rules regarding the right to disconnect. According to the 2022 edition of Claeys & Engels’s HR Beacon, this number was as low as 14%.
A ‘new’ right to disconnect
New legislation was passed in October 2022 to update and strengthen the right to disconnect. This law provides that all employers in the private sector with 20 employees or more are required to implement the right to disconnect for all categories of employees in a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) or through their work rules. However, this obligation lapses if a national or sectoral CBA has been concluded regarding the right to disconnect. Since then, a significant number of industries have concluded such a sectoral CBA.
The legal deadline for implementation was initially 1 January 2023, but this date was later moved to 1 April 2023 to give employers sufficient time to conclude a CBA or amend their work rules. The 2023 edition of the HR Beacon showed that at the end of 2022, almost 50% of companies had already implemented the right to disconnect. This number will likely have increased in the meantime as the implementation deadline has now passed.
What must be put in place?
The CBA or work rules regarding the right to disconnect must, as a legal minimum, contain provisions regarding:
- the practical arrangements for the application of the employees’ right not to be contactable after working hours;
- instructions for the use of digital tools to guarantee rest periods, holidays, and employees’ private and family life;
- training and awareness-raising measures for employees and management staff on the wise use of digital tools and the risks of excessive connection.
Belgian law does not foresee specific sanctions for employers who have not (yet) implemented the right to disconnect. However, employers in Belgium also have general obligations related to well-being at work, and these also include the right to disconnect. If an employer fails to respect the right to disconnect, this could be seen as failure to comply with obligations regarding well-being at work. Breaches of these obligations may result in criminal or administrative sanctions for the employer and/or its representatives.
There is no statutory right in Sweden for employees to disconnect and no proposals from the government that this should change. However, it is not common in Sweden that employers regularly try to connect with employees when not at work and expect a response as employers should respect the employees’ private time.