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February 26, 2019 | HR Compliance | Posted by Ascentis

You Have the Right to… Disconnect?

Author: Bob Greene

Many experts see the pendulum swinging in the U.S. away from employee protections. Examples abound, including extended overtime protections, the repeal of more detailed OSHA and EEO reporting rules, and the announcement of new health plan Executive Orders. Yes, it’s certainly possible to discern a trend forming, “state-side,” over the last 18-24 months.

It seems our European neighbors across the pond, however, are experiencing quite the opposite.

No Response Required

European employers have started the trend of placing high value on their employees’ ability to hang up a digital “Do Not Disturb” sign. This should come as no surprise to the rest of the world, since we have also seen Europe introduce the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) which guarantees a new-found "employee’s right to be forgotten” - a right which can be at odds with their employer’s responsibility to maintain historical compliance records, after a certain point in time, within their human resources systems.

It’s been a long-held cliché that Millennials (and now, post-Millennials) might require some form of minor surgical procedure to remove their hand-held devices from their grasp, and along with it the instantaneous messaging that these gadgets represent. And to our knowledge, this fundamental generational characteristic does not stop at the U.S. border; it’s a common generational trait all over the world. Yes, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is an addiction, too, and there’s no Twelve-Step program for it!

In the Peanuts cartoons, Linus had his security blanket; our youngest generation of workers have their iPhones and Apple watches serving much the same purpose.

Message Received?

So, are European workers up-in-arms about this? It’s hard to imagine French employees storming the Bastille because they got an email requiring immediate response at 5:10 pm local time, or German workers picketing Angela Merkel’s vacation villa over the right to turn off their cell phones in the evenings.

Despite the question of whether the need to disconnect is a problem at all, European regulators do increasingly see this as an issue, particularly regarding the “pressure” it may put on an employee to continue to monitor work communications outside scheduled work hours. This movement even has a name, and the requisite hashtag: #DoNotDisturb.

Out of Office Means Out of Office

In 2017, France passed legislation that required French employers with more than 50 employees to guarantee their employees the right to disconnect from electronic communications after office hours. Italy has introduced similar legislation, and, we should not assume this movement will “stay on that side of the pond,” as the Canadian Province of Quebec has introduced legislation as well.

Some employers in Germany install software into their email programs that automatically deliver replies to email senders when employees are on Paid Time Off (PTO), directing them to an alternate contact and then deleting the email from the PTO employee’s mailbox altogether! Think of this as “mandatory auto-reply on steroids.”

Like it or not as an employer, for a moment imagine what it would be like as a vacationing employee to return to the office from PTO to find an empty mailbox as opposed to the 400 emails you routinely review now. Did you mentally reply “dream come true!” to that proposition? Or something more along the lines of “anxiety-inducing…”

Reply to Sender

OK, OK. I know what you’re thinking. This concept was brought to us by the same people who invented new privacy rights under the above-referenced GDPR, and who offer their new hires six to eight weeks or more of PTO every year and perhaps up to six to nine months of paid parenting leave. It’s just different over there, right? It couldn’t really happen here, could it?

Well, the New York City Council is actively considering a proposal, which would be applicable to all employers within city limits, with exemption to city government workers, that would not only guarantee employees’ right to ignore electronic communications after work but impose fines on the employer of $250 every time the right is violated.

Stay tuned...


About the Author

Bob Greene currently serves as Channels Manager and Sales Trainer at Ascentis. Bob’s 39 years in the human capital management industry have been spent in practitioner, consultant and vendor/partner roles. As practitioner, he managed payroll for a 5,000 person bank in New Jersey. As consultant, he spent 8 years advising customers in HRMS, and payroll and benefits system design as well as acquisition strategies. Bob also built a strategic HCM advisory practice for Xcelicor (now Deloitte Consulting.)

As vendor/partner, he has had prominent roles in sales support, marketing and product management at several companies and currently Ascentis. Bob recently re-joined the Editorial Board of IHRIM’s Workforce Solutions Review journal, as Contributing Editor. His experience also includes two years as Adjunct Lecturer in HRIS at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois. In addition to his 39 years of experience, Bob also holds a BA in English from Rutgers University.

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