Should It Be Illegal For Your Boss To Contact You On The Weekend?

First of its kind legislation was recently passed in the country of Portugal making it illegal for employers to contact their employees after hours. Should it be illegal in the United States for your boss to contact you on the weekend or after hours?

Digital Nomads Need To Apply

As part of a long list of new labor laws being enacted by Portugal’s Parliament, employers can now be penalized if they contact their employees after hours, especially on weekends. 

Like many other countries, Portuguese citizens moved en masse from their office buildings to work from home. The new laws are an attempt to give remote workers “a healthier work-life balance and to attract ‘digital nomads’ to the country” according to an article in Vice World News

More laws are expected to pass that would ban companies from monitoring their employees at home and mandate employers meet with their employees in person at least every two months. The “right to disconnect” legislation, which allows employees to turn off their work devices was not passed into law, however. 

Ana Mendes Godinho, Portugal's Minister of Labour and Social Security, spoke about the new laws at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon. 

"The pandemic has accelerated the need to regulate what needs to be regulated. Telework can be a 'game changer' if we profit from the advantages and reduce the disadvantages. We consider Portugal one of the best places in the world for these digital nomads and remote workers to choose to live in, we want to attract them to Portugal.” 

An Emerging Trend 

Portugal is just the latest country to pass legislation to protect its workforce from after-hours emails, texts, and calls from the boss. 

In 2017 France enacted their version of  “the right to disconnect” which bans companies with 50 or more employees from messaging them after hours. The mandate states that companies have to draw up a charter outlining when texting, emailing, or calling is off-limits and stick to it. French citizens have already been enjoying a 35-hour workweek since 2000 and can now anticipate their evenings and weekends free of work communications.

Spain also enacted legislation in 2018 to limit when employers can contact employees and Ontario, Canada is expected to roll out their version of “right to disconnect” laws soon. 

In 2014, German vehicle-maker Daimler started giving  workers the option of  instead of sending an out-of-office reply, to simply having all new emails automatically deleted while they are on holiday (what we call vacation in the U.S.) 

After-Hours Work Messages Are Menacing To Employees

 Virginia Tech associate professor of management in the Pamplin College of Business, William Becker, co-authored a study titled, “Killing me softly: electronic communications monitoring and employee and significant-other well-being,” that revealed even the expectation of after-hours work calls, texts, and email not only resulted in causing anxiety in employees, which adversely affects their health but also their families. So, even if employees don’t actually do any work in their off-hours, the messages received about it are enough to invoke feelings of anxiety and increase stress levels, which can then transfer to family members around them. 

Studies from 2016 to 2018 were already showing how an “always-on” work culture is detrimental to the health and well-being of employees around the globe. 

A Lehigh University study published by Science Daily revealed that employees in the study (365 adults) were fatigued from being expected to respond to messages from employers after normal working hours. The anxiety and stress of never truly being disconnected from their work led to burnout for many employees and some to even quit their jobs.

Then COVID. 

The pandemic and subsequent radical change to workers’ lives upended many workplaces and tens of millions of more people were in remote work situations. The technology that makes it possible for so many to work from home also facilitates a culture of constant availability via electronic devices. Now everyone working remotely was reachable any time of the day or night and employees were spending many of their off-hours checking and responding to work-related messages. 

Will The U.S. Enact Right To Work Laws?

It’s highly unlikely “right to work” laws will be passed in the United States anytime soon. Americans are known for being work-a-holics to the rest of the world. Rarely taking sick days, not using all their PTO and putting in a lot of overtime is part of the American work culture.

At least it was. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way millions of workers view their careers and the time spent on them. As they settled into WFH routines and found that they could still get all their work done, that their company could continue to grow and profit without everyone in the same building, attitudes about work began to change. 

A significant number of remote employees in the U.S. want to stay completely remote or have a hybrid schedule that consists of more work-from-home days than time in the office. The country is experiencing what has been dubbed “The Great Resignation” with nearly 4 million people quitting their jobs in September. In order to retain and attract new workers many companies are getting creative in the benefits they offer beyond fully-remote and hybrid work schedules.

Will more American companies follow their European counterparts’ lead and enact policies forbidding after-hours messaging from supervisors to their employees? Could such policies help keep workers at their current jobs free from the worry and stress they experience when never fully disconnected from work? As more people leave their jobs and companies struggle to fill empty positions, a policy explicitly stating their own version of “right to disconnect” could make a big difference in employee retention and attracting new workers.

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