India: Everything You Want To Know About Right To Disconnect

Last Updated: 29 January 2019
Article by Shubham Borkar and Priya Rane
Most Read Contributor in India, January 2019

Everyone in the working community and specifically private sector can relate to this.

After being continuously in office for ten hours or more, it becomes very frustrating and stressful for a person to respond to office-related calls even after work hours. If one look into the present working environment it has been changing drastically due to new information and communication technologies. The margin between work life and home life has shrunk with the advent of digital tools and new technologies into employment.

It can said without any doubt that the digital tools bring activeness and freedom to employees however, somewhere they also create hindrance in one's peace and lead to excessive interference in the private lives of employees. The total estimated number of people living with anxiety disorders in the world is 264 million1 and if you go into their details you will find a huge number pertaining to private workers.

Connectivity has although made life easier to such an extent that people everywhere have started staying connected to family, friends, and work from dawn to dusk. However, knowingly or unknowingly this has caused high imbalance in private and professional life. It has been always a rule since inception, to be not engaged with personal life at work and is always discouraged by employers. On the same equation, there is also a need of change, that people get the right to disconnect from work while having the family time at home. In India, there is a rat race for working more with more competition, lesser jobs and growing anticipations of proving our worth.

Have you ever thought that there might be some law against those after work hour calls and emails? While the answer is yes. To help employees and strike a good work-life balance and reduce the mental stress, National Congress Party's MP Supriya Sule D/O Sharad Pawar recently introduced the "Right to Disconnect Bill 2018", a Private Member's Bill in the Lok Sabha.

What exactly "Right to Disconnect" is?

The Right to Disconnect is a proposed human right where a person will have a right to disconnect from his/her work or one can say no to engagement in work related communications i.e. emails, calls, and messages during non-working hours. Many countries have some form of the right to disconnect included in their law, while in others it is present in the policy of many MNC's.

INSIGHTS OF THE BILL

The "Right to Disconnect" Bill has triggered a debate in a country. The first ever nationwide survey on mental health covering 28 states in 2015- 2016 gives us a better idea about the prevalence of anxiety disorders in India. The survey indicates that the total prevalence of anxiety disorders in India amount to 3.1 percent of the population.2 A UBS report said "UBS assessed 77 cities around the world on a number of parameters including average annual working hours".3 Mumbai leads the list of cities across the world with people working an average of 3,314 hours a year.4
Attempting to tackle the never-ending demands of professional life is the Right to Disconnect Bill that has been recently introduced in the Lok Sabha.

Every employee shall have the right to disconnect out of work hours. For the purpose of this section5

(a) 'right to disconnect' means that while the employer may contact the worker after work hours, the employee is not obliged to reply or shall have right to refuse to answer such calls; and

(b) In case an employee refuses to reply any call during out-of-work hours, such employee shall not be subject to any disciplinary action by the employer."

A Governing Authority proposed is expected to consist of Minister of State, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology as its Chairperson ex-officio and the Minister of State, Ministry of Communication and Ministry of Labour and Employment as the Vice-Chairmen ex-officio.

  1. This Authority is then expected to form a charter which outlines the conditions which needs to be negotiated between employees and employers of a company or society, within one year from the date of its constitution.
  2. The companies with more than 10 employees mandated to draft their own policy towards employees to periodically negotiate specific terms with their workers.
  3. The Right to Disconnect Bill also proposes to set up an "Employees' Welfare Committees" in every company to assist the employees in such negotiations.
  4. The Bill also provides such provisions which ensures that the negotiations must take place at regular intervals, to keep up with changing business demands.
  5. The Right to Disconnect Bill impose sanctions at the rate of 1 % of its total employees' remuneration, for any non-compliance with the provisions of the Bill.

OTHER KEY POINTS

  1. With the implementation of "Right to Disconnect" Bill 2018, employees would have the right to disconnect or not to answer calls/e-mails beyond work hours.
  2. The employees for this cannot face disciplinary action.
  3. Employers under the "Right to Disconnect" Bill can negotiate on out-of-work hours with employee.

Tracing the Origin of the Right to Dis-connect

France was the first country in the world to introduce a proper legal framework protecting a person's "right to disconnect". It all started back in 2001 when the French Supreme Court ruled that no employee is under obligation to bring the office work at home and with time as the technology developed the Court continued to modernize its ruling.

On 1st January 2017, France introduced the El Khomri law i.e. a kind of revised Labor code, Article 55 of the code mandates that the companies with more than 50 workers must have a negotiation of obligations with the employees and guarantee them the "the right to disconnect" or ignore the phone calls outside the office hours. The law is reasonably vague and doesn't restrict after-hours work communication, but rather obliges organizations to negotiate these terms clearly with prospective employees.

Recently Italy has also incorporated a very similar right to disconnect law, again simply requiring contractual clarity over an employee's responsibility to communicate outside of general work hours basically a contractual clarity regarding employee's duty to communicate outside the office hour is needed.

In Spain, each and every company regardless of the number of employees, have the "right to disconnect" policies. The culture of "Right to disconnect" is crawling all over the world and New York in such case is no longer behind. It is also contemplating over a bill similar to "Right to disconnect" bill. The bill not only limits to 'Out of Work Hours' but also to the vacations.

Germany is another country that has been struggling with these questions for several years that how to reduce work-related stress and strive for a better work-life balance. The Employment Minister of Germany Mr. Andrea Nahles, came up with a research in 2017 revealing some serious facts that workers tend to retire early because of constantly in stress and has been calling for "anti-stress" laws similar to "Right to Disconnect" since 2014.

Many of the Companies in Germany have hopped ahead of the phase, thinking that it might be good for overall work culture to self-regulate some of these matters. Among many companies, Volkswagen was first to institute a rule in company to freeze all emails related to work during no-working hours. For this the company make such arrangements that there internal servers never route an email to individual accounts.

Why There Is Need Of Such Legislation?

  1. Anxiety Disorder: In many surveys it has been found that people having high imbalance in work life and personal life tend to suffer from anxiety related disorders more frequently as comparison to those who have better life balance. Heart related problems, Loss in appetite and obesity are major health issues found among people because of long working hours as they sit continuously for long 8-10 hrs per day. Anxiety disorders are among one of the most prevalent mental, emotional and behavioral problems in the world, estimated to affect 3.6% of the global population as of 2015, or about 264 million people, according to WHO figures
    So, its only home where a person can relax and can get some time free from work related stress, and if in that time he/she gets work related calls , messages or emails, he is bound to get disturbed. Sometimes to such an extent that the person starts distancing himself from socializing very often.
  2. Weakening Social relations: Relations can be built only through communication and spending time with people around you. And when one is not able to give much needed time to family and close ones, the relationship starts weakening. Today work pressure is so high that people rarely have time to socialize with other. Taking them for granted when one is too engrossed in work activities even when at home creates disturbances in relations. According to a survey, it is found that 90% of the divorce and separation cases arise in families where people have less time to spend with each other without being disturbed.
  3. No Down Time: Every one of us at some point need relaxation from work life. One is not supposed to work continuously without a break. There is always a need of entertainment and fun in life to rejuvenate. How one can relax when boss is constantly reminding you of the pending work or a presentation next day. To be able to enjoy and find relief one needs free mind which isn't possible now-a-days due to work pressure.
  4. Too much screen time: After spending the entire day brooding at the computer screen, one needs some no-technology time. Due to constant staring at computer and mobile screens, eye drying and itching are some common problems faced by people, not to mention the bigger issues we hear about every other day on the drawbacks of overusing technology. People can for once ignore other attractions that their alluring smart phones offer but once it comes down to work, there is no denying attention. They actually get our undivided attention which is meant for anything but work after office hours.
  5. Lack in Performance: People can only perform best when there is a proper balance between work and private life. Until and unless there is high work pressure they are not capable of performing to their best capability. It has been found that people who disconnect work after office hours and spend good time relishing with friends and family or enjoying a sport of their choice, actually performed better than those who put in extra hours to work and stayed connected even while at home. If any country needs better workforce, then there is a need to give workers the much needed "Right to Disconnect" from work after office hours.

At What Cost

Although, with so much positive about the "Right to Disconnect" Bill it is not behind in costing so much from the managers and employers who would probably going to have a hard time facing employees with long pending works. Because as a matter of fact it is clear that not everybody is punctual and disciplined in their work, not everyone work as per the deadlines and schedules. Where "Right to Disconnect" Bill calls for total disconnection of work calls and emails in non-working hours, it will create a wave of stress among managers and employers who already have a bad time in pushing employees to make them work in given time. There is no denying that there are too many of people who need constant pushing to get them do their work on time.

According to Indian perspective the biggest impediment in implementation of the Right to Disconnect Bill 2018, is our developing economy, we are not among the developed countries we are still struggling to get in line, so the work attitude in India is quite competitive in every factor either it is production or top/bottom line performances. Being a developing country, India still depends on global market. This makes it difficult to have a uniform work policy across all sectors.

By the 'Right to Disconnect" Bill lazy people going to have their gala time in working as well as in non-working hours.

Another backdrop of the "Right to Disconnect" Bill is the employers would not be able to keep a track on the important works as work emails at home are usually reminders of an important deadline or guideline that needs to be kept track of. One cannot simply ignore the duties bestowed upon him and for a matter of fact there are certainly some professions like doctors, Fireman, technical support, security staff who needs to be on duty 24 *7 * 365 any moment and 'Right to Disconnect" is a kind of hurdle in between.

Conclusion

Are you longing for sitting back, unwinding and putting your telephone on silent mode when the workday is finished or even put it on airplane mode, in case you're feeling rebellious? These expectations might be untimely as it's a private member's bill, and no such bill has turned into an Act since 1970. France is as yet bantering on the privilege to disengage totally from work messages when at home. As recommended by the promoters of those that started this discussion, it won't be effective until directors and supervisors decrease the work weight on representatives.

In India, it would be immensely hard to decide whether such a standard would be appropriately actualized regardless of whether it is passed. Employers would find out some alternate means for staying connected with their work force, it could be via a waiver clause in the employment contract or by any other express or implied means.

Footnote

1 http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/254610/WHO-MSD-MER-2017.2-eng.pdf;jsessionid=99426928F47FC6F2D9BD0596D662BBFF?sequence=1

2 National Mental Health Survey conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) in 2015 -2016.

3 "Price And Earnings 2018" report.

4 https://www.bloombergquint.com/law-and-policy/right-to-disconnect-a-bill-that-wants-you-to-go-offline-after-work#gs.o4XY9Izy

5 Section 7 of "Right to Disconnect" Bill, 2018.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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