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EURES (EURopean Employment Services)
News article17 May 2024European Labour Authority, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion2 min read

Remote workers and their right to disconnect: regulating telework in the EU

Many employees today provide their services remotely, either partially or fully. With ICT tools allowing us to be ‘on’ all the time, safeguarding our personal time and well-being is crucial. How is the EU addressing the issue?

Remote workers and their right to disconnect: regulating telework in the EU

Before the coronavirus pandemic, teleworking was not an unknown concept. However, it was an exception to the unspoken rule that work was to be carried out solely at a setting provided and regulated by the employer during a pre-agreed set of hours, after which the employee was mostly able to ‘switch off’ and get on with the rest of their life and commitments.

The spread of remote working in 2020 helped companies stay afloat and workers retain their jobs while navigating the rough waters of the pandemic. While this was a positive outcome, teleworking also led to blurred boundaries between work and personal time, with digital devices making employees contactable outside contractual working hours, encroaching on their personal time and compromising their physical and mental well-being.

Surveying the damage

Data from the European Working Conditions Telephone Survey 2021 revealed that teleworkers often put in additional – and unpaid – working hours solely because digital tools make it extremely difficult to set boundaries between work and personal life.

Furthermore, according to a survey carried out by Eurofound on employees and HR managers, 45% of the subjects stated that their employer did have a ‘right to disconnect’ policy in place, but almost 80% said that they regularly received work-related communication outside their working hours. 

Establishing teleworking policies

Recognising the implications, the EU set about introducing relevant regulatory frameworks. Various EU directives, most notably the Working Time Directive (Directive 2003/88/EC), contain provisions about teleworking, for example setting limits on working hours and regulating rest periods for workers. 

Furthermore, EU Member States began addressing teleworking issues on a state level. The 2021 EU-OSHA report on Regulating telework in a post-COVID-19 Europe distinguished two sets of countries, those that have adopted specific legislation on the use of telework and those that haven’t done so (or have addressed telework in different laws/contexts).

Since 2020, new legislation specifically on the right to disconnect was passed in Belgium, Croatia, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain. This was a direct result of the need to improve the occupational safety and health of all workers (remote and on-site) who use digital tools for work by preventing the risks of them being permanently connected.  

Implementing the right to disconnect, the right way

Overall, the ‘right to disconnect’ policies implemented across Member States and companies have had positive effects on employees’ health and well-being, with more workers reporting job satisfaction than in countries where such policies don’t exist. However, to see lasting change, relevant legislation needs to be accompanied by awareness raising among workers on the negative effects of ‘perma-connection’, and further measures must be adopted at company level, tailored to each specific work environment.  


Read more about regulating telework in a post-COVID-19 Europe in EU-OSHA’s updated 2023 report.


Related links:

Striking the right balance between work and personal time

Remote work: A guide for new employees

How to promote a good work-life balance for employees post-COVID-19

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