The European Parliament has demanded an EU-wide law giving workers the right to switch off their devices outside working hours without facing repercussions from their employers.
MEPs in Brussels said the “right to disconnect” should allow employees to stop answering work-related phone calls and emails in evenings or on holiday.
They said the rules for remote working were needed to curb the “always on” culture, which they blamed for depression, anxiety and burnout.
The right to disconnect was especially necessary because of increased working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, the MEPs said as they backed the idea by 472 votes in favour, 126 against and 83 abstentions.
The European Commission should propose legislation setting out rules for remote working, including for hours, rest periods and other conditions, the MEPs said in what could be the first step towards binding EU rules.
Alex Agius Saliba was the lead MEP on the legislative initiative. The Maltese Socialist said it was time to update worker’s rights to fit the new realities of the digital age.
“We cannot abandon millions of European workers who are exhausted by the pressure to be always ‘on’ and overly long working hours […] this is vital for our mental and physical health,” he said.
The commission will have to decide whether to bring forward legislation or not. Even if that happens it could still take years to become law.
The Parliament also voted for an amendment asking the commission to delay any legislation for three years, which was criticised by the European Trade Union Confederation.
The bill would still need to be backed by member states in the Council of Ministers, who, like the European Parliament, would be able to amend it.
The Council and the MEPs would then have to agree an identical text before the right to disconnect became EU law.
People who work regularly from home are more than twice as likely to surpass the EU maximum of 48 working hours per week, according to research by The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions.