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Government Workers In Belgium Now Have The Right To Ignore Their Boss After Hours

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Government Workers In Belgium Now Have The Right To Ignore Their Boss After Hours

Under new regulations introduced in Belgium, government workers will be entitled to ignore their bosses if they're contacted after hours.

The movement is being called the 'Right to Disconnect' and will be introduced for civil workers from February 1 by the Minister of Civil Service Petra De Sutter.

A memo seen by Belgian newspaper De Morgen, states workers can only be 'contacted outside normal working hours in exception and unforeseen circumstances and where action is required that cannot wait until the next working period'.

It goes on to say employees should 'not be disadvantaged' if they choose not to respond to contact from their boss outside work hours.

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The decision is aimed at allowing 'better focus, better recuperation and a more sustainable energy level'.

EyeEm / Alamy Stock Photo
EyeEm / Alamy Stock Photo

However, there are no clear penalties if the regulations are broken.

De Sutter said in the memo that the decision was made to combat 'excessive work stress and burn-out'.

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While this is an honourable move and one I sincerely hope other industries and countries will follow, it's worth noting there are plenty of ways around it and that burn-out and work stress extend well beyond being contacted outside of office hours.

France, Italy, Spain and Ireland have all instigated right to disconnect policies.

France made the decision after an ambulance driver was let go in 1998 for failing to answer his employer's calls outside of working hours.

weedezign / Alamy Stock Photo
weedezign / Alamy Stock Photo
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As laid out by Ope Akanbi, assistant professor, Professional Communication, Ryerson University, in this piece, the right to disconnect is a complicated concept that applies to more than just refusing to answer calls outside of work hours.

For workers in a physical role that stops them from being able to do tasks once they leave their workplace, the right to disconnect should mean they cannot be forced into work tasks or thought after hours.

But for people working in digital workplaces, it can be very hard to establish the lines between the end of work and the beginning of 'after hours'.

Covid-19's impact on forcing offices into remote working has made this distinction particularly difficult as many workers have extended their hours and found it hard to disconnect once they 'log off' for the day.

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Prajuab Chaipimpa / Alamy Stock Photo
Prajuab Chaipimpa / Alamy Stock Photo

There is hope that the decision for Belgian public servants will move further in the country to cover private-sector workers too, although unions have some concerns about how feasible that is.

Speaking to VICE World News, president of the Belgian union FGTB-ABVV, Thierry Bodson, said there would need to be serious consideration before it was rolled out across other industries.

"This decision taken for public sector workers is very important [and] opens up a real right to disconnect for 65,000 federal civil servants," Bodson said.

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"This is a step forward, but it cannot be automatically applied to other workers in Belgium.

"For workers in the private sector, several laws will have to be amended to allow this right to disconnect. Our union wants to extend this rule or principle to the private sector, but the legislative path will be longer and much more complex."

Featured Image Credit: Prostock-studio / Alamy Stock Photo

Topics: Belgium, News

Hannah Blackiston
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