2nd shift – REST/PRIVACY



The right to rest and disconnect might be difficult to define. Is it attainable for everyone?

70. Women workers dormitory in a factory. Period of State Socialism, 1944-1989. Interactive Museum of Industry, Gabrovo, Bulgaria.


Considering that our society is characterised by constant connection and a profusion of stimuli, namely visual, what is the room left for imagination? What would be the consequences of this hyper-stimulation?

71. Photo of the english instructions page of an Electro Portuguesa product. ELECTRO PORTUGUESA LDA. 1947-1997. Teófilo Rego Archive, Casa da Imagem – Manuel Leão Foundation, Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.

The right to disconnect was coined by a decision from the Labour Chamber of the French Supreme Court, in 2001. This legal decision made clear that the employee, involved in the proceeding, was not under any obligation either to accept working at home or to bring work and professional devices home. This decision was later confirmed by the (French) Supreme Court which made clear that the fact that the employee was not available on his mobile phone outside working hours cannot be deemed misconduct.

Accordingly, the right to disconnect is a purported human right protecting people from being required to continuously engage in work-related electronic communications (e-mails, messages, and other means of technology) during non-work hours. In this sense the right to disconnect is closely linked to the ability of not producing, leisure and rest.
As the contemporary working environment has been radically changed by new com- munication and information technologies it led as result to a continuous state of en- gagement and devotion to productivity that should be always mainstreamed, including in leisure and rest periods. While in the past the establishment of 8-8-8 paradigm (eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest), coined by Welsh, came to establish a sort of balance and boundary structure to avoid exhaustion that ultimately would lead to decline in productivity – the right to disconnect emerges to establish those same boundaries, but from a human rights perspective – human beings are not machines and should have the ability to fully rest and relax through the ability of not producing.

Many countries, predominantly in Europe, have some form of right to disconnect embedded in the law, while in some companies it has been adopted as internal policy. In any case, there is presently no European legal framework directly defining and regulating the right to disconnect. The Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC) includes several rights that implicitly relate to this right (i.e., the minimum daily and weekly rest periods that are required to safeguard workers’ health and safety) but it ultimately does not cover its full scope.

Recently, and in light of the pressures towards workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, the EU Parliament called for an EU law to grant workers the right to digitally disconnect from work without facing negative repercussions. This initiative counted with 472 votes in favour, 126 against and 83 abstentions, showing that the right to disconnect is a priority to address in terms of labour rights.