Should we have the right to shut down all means of communication with the workplace during our down time?
In a world run by technology it is becoming more and more difficult to cut ourselves off from digital technology after work and this is making it difficult to shut down all means of communication because of the temptation to reply to a message or email through the mobile or laptop. At times it is the individual’s free choice to do so, but sometimes an employee is constrained to reply even outside working hours or during days off.
MEUSAC organised a conference entitled The Right to Disconnect at Hotel Suncrest in Qawra on the 28 October 2019 to discuss this issue. Mario Sacco, Assistant Director at UĦM Voice of the Workers, attended and participated in this conference.
During one of the workshops led by Marco Sacco it emerged that the Right to Disconnect is not new. In the days before we entered the digital age, employees often took work home to complete it for their own peace of mind. Some did this voluntarily and others were constrained by their employers to do so. Today, with technology at our fingertips, it is easier for employers to contact employees at all times and ask them to do a piece of work outside working hours.
One of the outcomes of the discussion was that employers should not communicate with their employees on personal gadgets. The same applies to the employees. They should not use their personal email for work purposes. Mario Sacco asked, if the internet is provided by the employer, can the employee switch it off at a specific time? Does the employee have a right to switch off work communication means during rest periods?
Marco Sacco said that there are many workers who are given a work laptop and mobile and employers often expect workers to use them even outside working hours. He said that there are three sides to this issue: the issue may not be directly created by the employer but by the nature of the work if it involves giving a direct service to clients and communicating with them; there is the element of feeling obliged, or the employer making the worker feel obliged because they provided them with and are paying for the means of communication; and, there is also the element of, due to lack of awareness, workers giving out their mobile number or email over social media such as facebook, messenger and twitter when they are not obliged to.
Three things are required in the future. First to ensure that workers are educated and updated about technological developments and their rights; second, that a distinction be drawn between a person’s role and responsibilities and, third, that a legal framework be drawn up to address all the different situations.