European Parliament adopts own-initiative report on the "right to be unavailable

EU legislation on the disconnection of digital work devices for employees would be lacking, finds the majority of MEPs in the European Parliament. Working time and occupational health and safety have long been comprehensively regulated.

On 21 January 2021, the European Parliament adopted a legislative own-initiative report on the "right to be disconnected", calling on the Commission to present a directive on the subject. MEPs argue that there is currently no specific EU legislation on the right of workers to disconnect from digital tools used for work purposes. The digitalisation trend accelerated by the Covid 19 pandemic has underlined this. "Inaccessibility" means that workers are not directly or indirectly engaged in work-related activities or communications outside working hours by means of digital tools.

The right to be unavailable is to be implemented, among other things, through a general obligation for employers to record working time. In addition, special protective provisions and extensive information rights for employees as well as sanction provisions against employers are to be created for enforcement.

In the run-up to the vote, European employers had rejected the need for a special right to be unavailable: Already today, no employee must always and continuously be available for his employer. This had long been extensively regulated by legislation, first and foremost by the EU Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC) and the German Working Time Act based on it, but also, for example, by the Framework Directive on Health and Safety at Work (89/391/EEC).

Furthermore, the European social partners did not agree on a framework agreement on digitalisation until mid-2020. It also addresses the issue of "connecting/disconnecting". Although the EP states in its resolution that any legislation before the expiry of the three-year implementation period of the agreement would disregard the role of the social partners - it does not formulate a rejection of further-reaching legislative measures after this deadline.

Instead, individual solutions are needed at company level: The world of work and the wishes of many employees are becoming increasingly flexible - imposing a rigid corset would result in exactly the opposite of the politically desired support for mobile work.

The Commission now has three months to either take up the initiative or reject it with reasons. During the debate in plenary, Nicolas Schmit, EU Employment Commissioner, stressed that he saw the social partners at the forefront of this issue.