“Right to rest”: as part of Portugal’s bold attempt to regulate remote work

Bosses can be fined for contacting their employees outside of working hours by email, text or phone under new Portuguese laws.

The ‘right to rest’ rules, which took effect on Saturday, were introduced by the socialist-led Portuguese government to help improve the country’s work-life balance as the Covid pandemic forces millions of people people to work from home.

In what The New York Times described as “one of the boldest efforts in the world” to regulate remote working, the new law states that “the employer must respect the privacy of the worker.” In addition to being prohibited from contacting staff outside of working hours except in emergencies, employers are also required to compensate remote workers for any resulting increases in bills such as electricity and gas. .

In order to prevent remote workers from feeling isolated, companies should also hold face-to-face meetings at least every two months.

But employees with children up to eight years old have the right to work remotely without seeking prior approval from their bosses.

The new legislation applies to businesses with more than ten employees, and employers can be subject to fines for any violation that constitutes a “serious” violation.

“Remote working has great advantages as long as we control the disadvantages,” Portuguese Minister of Labor, Solidarity and Social Security Ana Mendes Godinho said at the Lisbon Web Summit earlier this month. “The pandemic has accelerated the need to regulate what already needs to be regulated. “

The new legislation could attract more remote foreign workers to Portugal, thereby boosting the country’s economy, she added.

But some industry leaders criticized the new laws “for being too hasty a response” to the pandemic, the Financial Times reported. The Confederation of Portuguese Farmers (CAP) said the legislation was an “unreasonable” reaction to the problems caused by Covid-19.

Research firm Gartner estimated in June that 32% of the global workforce would be remote workers by the end of 2021, up from just 17% in 2019, before the virus struck.

Although Portugal’s push to protect workers’ working hours is among the most ‘daring’ to date, other countries have modernized their labor laws in recent years.

Staff in countries such as France, Spain, Belgium, Slovakia, Italy, the Philippines, Argentina and India “currently enjoy the” right to disconnect “- or to abstain without sanction for working and communicating with their employers during designated rest periods, ”wrote Vancouver reporter Adrienne Matei in an article for The Guardian asking if the United States could introduce similar laws.

The same question was asked in the UK by Metro in August, when the newspaper reported that Downing Street was “encouraged” to introduce such workers’ rights “from several sides”. But “so far, the UK government has not indicated its intention to make the right to withdraw from work outside normal hours a legal obligation,” the newspaper said.

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