May 21, 2022

Good morning. Every Saturday, we write about one specific right that you possess as a citizen in our country. In today’s edition of “Know Your Rights”, we look at whether you have a right to disconnect from work in India.


Right to Disconnect from Work

Imagine a world where once you’re off work, it stays that way. We’re talking about no extra emails from the office, no weekend logins, and no need to go through your work contacts once you’ve logged out. Could it be your reality soon?

Since the pandemic, the whole work from home culture has taken off. Companies are realising the benefits of not managing a physical building, and employees, for the most part, enjoy this new flexible approach to their schedule. But behind every good thing is a well-disguised bad one, and people are seeing that more than ever now.

Working from home often results in employees working way more than necessary. The excessive demands from the workplace usually bleed into personal time, and this makes the home an environment associated with high levels of stress. In the long run, this is incredibly harmful. Both for the individual’s health and the quality of work they put out.

This brings us to the right to disconnect. In 2018, MP Supriya Sule introduced the Right to Disconnect Bill in the Lok Sabha. It basically said that employers are not allowed to take any disciplinary measures against an employee who doesn’t respond to work calls after hours. Unfortunately, it was a private member’s bill, and those haven’t been passed since 1970.

The Bill calls for a Governing Authority to be set up. It will consist of the Minister of Electronics and Information Technology as its chairperson and the Minister of Communication and Ministry of Labour and Employment as the Vice-Chairmen. This body will then come up with the specifics of implementation. Generally speaking, they are:

  • It will form a charter that outlines the conditions an employee and their employer will have to negotiate within a year of the Act’s initial implementation.
  • Companies with over 10 employees can come up with their own policies regarding disconnecting after work.
  • It will also ensure that an Employees’ Welfare Committee will be set up in every company to help with these initial negotiations.
  • To keep up with evolving business demands, the provisions from the initial negotiations will also have to be regularly updated.
  • The Bill states the sanctions for any non-compliance with the Right to Disconnect will be at the rate of 1% of a company’s total employee remuneration.

Now, India isn’t the first to come up with such a Bill. Changing business standards and increased connectivity has made this a relevant issue across the globe. Back in 2001, France was the first country to provide a legitimate legal framework to protect an individual’s right to disconnect. And looking at how seriously the French take their vacation days, this was completely expected.

In 2017, France came up with the “El Khomri” law, introduced by their eponymous labour minister Myriam El Khomri. It is a revised labour law that codifies the right to disconnect in the country. Other European countries soon followed in its footsteps. Italy, Belgium, Germany and Spain have enacted similar municipal laws.

Interestingly, German car and truck maker Daimler is so committed to free time that back in 2014, it developed a software that automatically deleted any emails an employee got while on holiday. It didn’t take too long for Volkswagen to follow suit. And this appreciation for off time has reached work-crazy Japan as well. Several Japanese companies are now ensuring that their employees disconnect.

The latest addition to the disconnection club is Canada. Ontario passed Bill 27, the Working for Workers Act in 2021, which clearly goes over an employee’s rights to not engage with work when not at work. Of course, not literally. Just when they are off the clock. The piece of legislation is more about taking away the employer’s power to penalise an individual not at work than about adding powers elsewhere.

Unfortunately, while this right makes sense in principle, the implementation might be a pain in India. First off, when it comes to MNCs, workers from disparate time zones are working together for things to move smoothly. In factories and plants, the chances of an emergency are extremely high. Simply throwing one’s phone out the window is not the way to go here.

There are also the requirements of the supply chain that companies have to pay attention to, especially in a developing country like India, where the environment is super competitive anyway. It is also important to note that even France doesn’t give its employees the right to completely disengage. Under certain circumstances, a French employee might have to pick up the phone or hit ‘reply’ on an email after work.

Ideally, we should favour mental health over everything, but capitalism isn’t one to go down easy.