“The Brussels Diary With Yana Toom”: Employee’s Right to Disconnect


Estonia, as well as the entire EU, implements an eight-hour working day. But, with the emergence of the internet and teleworking, more and more employees are discovering that, from the employer’s point of view, they should always be available. In the morning, in the evening, during lunch, at a festive table, at a parent-teacher meeting and even on holiday. Available by phone, by e-mail, in Skype, Messenger or Viber. Is this normal – or not?


“I think that is wrong by the employer – to bother employees in their free time. After all, let the employer and employee solve their problems at work. And if someone has free time, they should be allowed to rest.”


“I am, apparently, not the one who can answer you, as I am an expert in crisis management and work 24 hours a day.”


“But wouldn’t it be nice if your personal free time actually remained free?”


“Sure. I think this is normal for any person, and personal time includes family, among other things.”


“It depends on the person. He or she must immediately resolve this issue with their employer. Some people have work phones on which they receive work-related phone calls, and when they have a day off or holiday time, they just turn off their phones. People just need to come to an agreement if something doesn’t suit them.”


When you can agree, that is good. But everybody knows that refusing the employer can be more trouble than it’s worth. Employers differ: one will agree, while another will suddenly fire you, leaving you at a loose end. Two plus two is not five.


That is why the European Parliament has decided that the EU must have a law giving employees the right to disconnect. Outside of working hours, not to receive calls from work, not to respond to text messages and e-mails.


In a healthy economy, people have the right to rest. This has been understood for quite a long time: the official eight-hour working day – for factory workers – was first introduced four hundred years ago in Spain by a decree of the king. And the right to disconnect from an employer first became law in France, just five years ago. France is ahead of the rest of Europe in this.


It is the European Parliament’s own initiative to raise the issue at EU level. I was a shadow reporter on it and insisted that the text include a requirement for the European Commission to develop criteria for teleworking as soon as possible.


Sending people home with a mobile phone, while at the same time shifting some of the office expenses onto them, depriving them of the practical option to separate personal and work life, and including all of this under the beautiful phrase, “home office”, seems strange, to say the least. While on subject of the right to disconnect, the right to a decent paid connection cannot also be overlooked.


A week ago, on 20 January, the Parliament adopted the initiative. The European Commissioner Nicholas Schmitt said that there would be a reaction by the Commission.


And it would be better for the Commission to react because it will only get worse. Especially for those who work remotely: usually, they amount to 5%, but, in the pandemic, there have been six times more of them, and every fourth person works overtime – for the same money. I gave my tuppence worth.