In the current technological and economic climate, a lot of workers are provided with a mobile phone by their employer on which e-mails arrive at any hour of the day and whereby the expected speed of reply is continuously increasing. Especially workers in managerial functions are therefore often busy with handling professional e-mails at any hour of the day, having the result that it becomes difficult to genuinely rest and relax in preparation for the next busy working day. As this can result in a negative cycle where the work-live balance of the worker and even his or her health is negatively impacted, France introduced the so-called “right to deconnect”, i.e. a right of not having to reply to calls or e-mails at certain hours of the day.

While France was one of the first countries adopting legislation on this point, the subject is evidently a universal subject, hence the Belgian government now also decided to adopt legislation.

Contrary to France, Belgium does not want to introduce a “right to deconnect” during specific hours of the day, but merely added the subject to the tasks of the committee for prevention and protection at work. Under the legal reforms, the committee for prevention and protection at work should draft a code on how the digital working tools available within the company can be used in a way that reconciles with the personal and family life of the workers. There is thus no “one size fits all solution”, but only the obligation to discuss the subject with the staff representatives or the staff members themselves.

If the committee for prevention and protection at work fails to reach an agreement on the subject, it is up to the employer to determine unilaterally the rules on the right to deconnect from electronic communication.

In companies where there is no committee for prevention and protection at work, but there is a union delegation, the union delegation takes over this competence.

In companies where there is also no union delegation, the employer should draft a code on the subject and consult the workers on this draft code under the consultation procedure for introducing or amending the work regulations.

If the committee for prevention and protection at work fails to reach an agreement on the subject, it is up to the employer to determine unilaterally the rules on the right to deconnect from electronic communication.

The legal reforms do not amend the working time rules. For staff subject to the working time rules, the employer can thus still only request that a worker performs work in the form of replying to an e-mail in the cases and subject to the procedures where this is allowed under the working time regulations. The legal reforms moreover do not include any provision on the question which remuneration is due for time spent replying to e-mails outside the normal working hours.

The reforms would only enter into force 18 months after its publication in the Belgian Official Journal.

*The legal reforms discussed in this publication are not definitively approved by Parliament yet, and may be subject to change.