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How practical is it to implement Right to Disconnect?

A bill by Lok Sabha MP Supriya Sule calls for a right to disconnect beyond office hours by employees

Source: | Jan 15, 2019 02:48 PM IST

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Supriya Sule on December 28 presented a private member bill that will allow employees to refuse work-related calls and emails beyond office hours and on holidays. While this may sound like the ideal concept for working professionals, human resource officials said its implementation wouldn’t be practical.

Sule who is a Member of Parliament said the Right to Disconnect Bill mandates companies to detail out-of-work demands ‘as a way to reduce stress and ease tension between an employee’s personal and professional life’.

Among other countries, France is the only one to have a law making it illegal for employers to contact employees after work hours (usually 6 pm). Companies will be subject to fines if they break the law.

The Bill envisages the establishment of an Employees' Welfare Authority to confer the right on every employee to disconnect from work-related telephone calls and emails beyond work hours and holidays.

Here, the right to disconnect means that while the employer may contact the worker after work hours, the employee is not obliged to reply or shall have the right to refuse to answer such calls.

Also, in case an employee refuses to reply to any call during out-of-work hours, such employee shall not be subject to any disciplinary action by the employer.

Is it viable?

Human resource officials said even if the law is introduced, it will be a huge challenge to implement it.

The head of human resources at a Mumbai-based manufacturing firm said they have a strict deadline of 6 pm and do not contact employees across the sector unless there is an emergency.

“If this is made a law, any mishaps at the plant cannot be addressed immediately since the concerned person can say that this is beyond their work hours,” he added.

Further, HR experts also said it is a reality in India that there is a backlog of work in most companies, due to which disconnecting cannot be possible.

Sunil Goel, Managing Director, GlobalHunt said, “In India, how many people meet the deadline for completion of work?  When you don’t complete the work within the deadline, how can you enjoy the benefits?”

He added that to adapt work-life balance of this sort, the basics need to be corrected first.

Another human resource official working in a mid-sized IT services firm said even though it is a reality that employees carry work home, nobody is penalised for not answering calls or emails. He said considering a lot of Indian IT firms work with global companies where there is a time difference, completely switching off is not practical.

Also, HR professionals said companies blatantly violating human rights by making employees work through digital means beyond work hours can be exposed on social media very easily.

Rituparna Chakraborty, Executive Vice President, TeamLease Services said the right to disconnect is a utopian thought.

“World of work is changing and there is no concept of fixed work hours. Companies can also no longer get away with dictatorial practices in the workplaces,” she added.

Sectors where it cannot be implemented

The bill does not specify the sectors where these rules will not apply. However, there are areas like public transport, medical industry, law enforcement as well as media where having fixed hours cannot be viable.

Chakraborty said a doctor cannot refuse to treat a patient saying it is beyond his/her work hours. Making it law will be detrimental, she added.

“Having such a law will be counter-productive because no company has this as a rampant practice,” she added.