No more boss after working hours: Portugal’s new ‘right to disconnect’ law

, by Afonso Morango

No more boss after working hours: Portugal's new ‘right to disconnect' law
source: pixabay

Remote workers in Portugal could see a healthier work-life balance under new labour laws approved by the country’s parliament.

Working from home can mean never being able to switch off and it has become a new norm for most Europeans during the pandemic. While it brought along several advantages, it also brought a discussion to the forefront about when work should end. In our current context, in which telework has become a reality, unrecognisable from the past, the need to reinforce a set of matters in the Labour Code has already been contemplated, of which privacy reinforcements and the right to disconnect is being considered.

Portugal has been a relative trailblazer in the European Union when it comes to remote work. Across the world, countries have been trying to figure out how to enact effective right-to-disconnect legislation for years. Some of these laws put a cap on the workday and others have limited communication after work hours. The goal is always to protect employees from overworking and shield them from the repercussions of stopping their work as a result. The “massive” implementation of digital work has led many workers to work well beyond their normal working hours, maintaining permanent contact with the employer, co-workers, and clients. In view of this reality, an intervention on clarity of working hours is necessary.

Portugal seems to believe that workers can, indeed, ignore messages from their bosses after working hours. As of November 2021, the Portuguese Labour Code stipulates that employers have the duty to refrain from contacting workers during their rest period, except in situations of force majeure. This is regardless of whether employees work from home or not. What’s more, companies that breach this right could face fines of up to €9690.

This new proposal, backed by the socialists and left block and put to parliament in November just before its dissolution, has been called game changing when it comes to working from home. According to the new rules, it will become a serious offense for employers to violate their employee’s privacy. However, a proposal to include the so-called “right to disconnect” - the legal right to switch off work-related messages and devices outside office hours - was rejected by Portuguese MPs. Still, this new Portuguese law is considered by many as an essential move to strengthen the boundaries needed for a good work-life balance. The legislation was passed following the growth of the home office during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Portugal’s Socialist Party government.

However, this idea is far from a novelty, as the first legislation related to the right to disconnect appeared in France in 2016, followed by Italy in 2017 and Spain one year later. Although different in the details, these light-touch norms protect a worker’s right not to respond to communication from work outside the business’s core hours, and not to be penalized for this in the eyes of the law. Furthermore, earlier this year, Ireland introduced a similar mechanism, by implementing a right to disconnect for all employees. Moreover, on a much broader level, the European parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of bringing in an EU wide law which can grant workers the right to digitally disconnect from work without facing any reverberations.

In an increasingly digital world, it is quickly becoming even more important to establish clear boundaries between work time and personal time. Also, for a country like Portugal, which has high percentages of emigration among young professionals, these new measures regarding work are seen as something positive by many.

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