Federal workers in Belgium can no longer be required to answer work-related emails or phone calls after hours, after a “right to disconnect” law comes into effect Tuesday.
The measure will allow 65,000 civil servants to become unavailable at the end of the workday, but for “the event of exceptional and unforeseen circumstances requiring action that cannot wait until the next working period,” according to The Brussels Times. Workers won’t be penalized for holding off on responding to emails or phone calls.
Belgium’s minister for public administration, Petra De Sutter, said in a letter the measure was necessary to fight against a culture in which workers feel they always need to be available, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic as more people transitioned to remote work.
Without the right to disconnect, “the result will be stress and burnout and this is the real disease of today,” said De Sutter, according to The Guardian.
Belgium’s move is a step in the direction of a growing trend in Europe over the past five years, which has gained strength as the coronavirus pandemic raises new questions about the future of work. Last November, Portugal approved a set of laws prohibiting employers from contacting remote workers after hours, a measure that applies to companies with more than 10 employees. Spain, Greene and Ireland, have mulled or enacted similar measures amid the pandemic.
Ana Mendes Godinho, Portugal’s minister of labor, said at the time the pandemic “accelerated the need to regulate what needs to be regulated.”