Right to disconnect: Dutch MPs want new law on emails outside work hours

Legislation would require companies to reach agreements with employees over when they can be contacted

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A group of Dutch politicians wants to establish a legal “right to disconnect” that would protect workers from being contacted by their employers outside working hours.

A bill put before the House of Representatives on Thursday aims to reduce stress and burnout by requiring companies and employees to strike agreements about when they can be reached.

The Dutch Labour Party is championing the measure, which it promised to introduce in its manifesto for the recent general election.

It said that work and private life had become increasingly blurred by the many people working from home during the pandemic.

“The traditional nine-to-five working time is a thing of the past in many Dutch workplaces,” said a document presented by politician Gijs van Dijk.

“Employees are almost always available and they feel pressure to respond to work messages even in their free time.

“The time for paying attention to friends and family or simply relaxing on the sofa can therefore come under pressure.”

Burnout is the No 1 occupational illness in the Netherlands, the document said, with more than one million people suffering from work-related stress.

It said the largest group of these was comprised of people aged 25 to 35, who could become a generation of burnt-out workers if the issue is not addressed.

Mr van Dijk told Dutch media he hoped for support from the Green Left and Democrats 66 parties, which both mentioned the issue in their manifestos.

Right to disconnect around the world

France introduced a similar law in 2016, which required companies with more than 50 workers to set out when employees could disconnect.

But a survey by a French trade union last year found that nearly 80 per cent of remote workers did not enjoy the right to disconnect during the pandemic.

Volkswagen brought in a system in 2012 in which its email servers would not deliver messages to employees between 6.15pm and 7am the next day.

A study by the UK’s University of Sussex in 2020 warned against catch-all measures that would not be suitable for all.

It said some employees would prefer to be able to attend to work outside normal hours.

The study was published before the pandemic prompted many offices to send their employees home.

Figures published by the European Parliament show people who regularly work from home are more than twice as likely to work longer than the EU maximum of 48 hours per week.

MEPs in January called on the European Commission to bring in a right to disconnect across the 27 EU nations.

The UK's Trades Union Congress made a similar call to the British government on Wednesday.

In addition to France, it named Ireland, Argentina and the Philippines as countries where workers had a right to disconnect.