Portugal has become the latest country in Europe to pass new laws which will prevent employers from contacting employees outside of working hours, in support of what has been labelled “the right to rest”.
The change has been introduced in a bid to improve employee’s work-life balance in a response to an increased number of people working from home as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under the new law, companies with more than ten members of staff could face fines if they contact employees outside of their contracted hours.
The law is also set to introduce new rules on allowing employees with children to work remotely. Namely, parents will be permitted to work from home indefinitely without obtaining prior approval from their employers until their child turns eight.
In addition, employers may also be required to contribute to employee’s household bills for example, energy and internet bills, which may have increased due to the employee being based at home.
It is also expected that Portugal will introduce measures to avoid remote workers feeling isolated or lonely by expecting companies to arrange in person meetings with employees at least every two months.
However, not all of the proposed changes were accepted by the Portuguese parliament. The “right to disconnect”, which would have permitted employees to turn off all work devices outside of working hours, was rejected as part of the consultation.
With more and more of us working remotely across the globe, it is becoming increasingly important for employers and employees to establish clear boundaries between personal time and working time. It is clear from the decision in Portugal that that an increasing number of jurisdictions are considering ways to regulate remote workers in light of the shift in our working patterns.
Whilst the UK has not announced any plans to follow in the footsteps of Portugal just yet, a consultation was launched in September this year which could enable employees to request a flexible working arrangement from day one of their employment.
The proposals set out in the consultation document are not quite as far-reaching as the measures introduced in Portugal. The key changes would be to make flexible working requests a day one right, by removing the eligibility requirement of 26 weeks’ service, and to allow employees to make more than one statutory request each year. This said, it is a step towards a more flexible culture of work and if proposals were to be implemented it would undoubtedly broaden the scope of the current right to request flexible working.
The consultation closes on 1 December 2021.
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