Will Israel ever provide employees with right to disconnect?

Canada plans to anchor in the 2024 Budget Law the “Right to Disconnect” – the right to reject contact from the boss after work hours. The significance is that employees will have the right not to carry out job related tasks, outside of office hours.

This law will only impact 500,000 Canadian employees in public sectors such as banking and transportation. Adv. Matthew Demeo, Labor and Employment Lawyer and Partner at global law firm DLA Piper in Toronto explains, “The vast majority of workers in Canada are employed by provincially-regulated industries and as such would not be impacted by the announcement in the 2024 Federal Budget.” DLA Piper has been active in Israel since 2009 and is led by Adv. Jeremy Lustman and Adv. Naomi Maryles.

Although the bill will only influence a small proportion of the Canadian work force, the measure is part of a global trend in which countries are striving to regulate labor laws in the era of remote work. Last July, more than 30 legislators in the European Union signed a treaty aiming to enshrine in law the rights of employees working from home. The “right to disconnect” is already practiced in several countries in Europe, but there are differences in the nature of the legislation from country to country.

Fines for employers

According to Adv. Dafna Shmuelevich, who specializes in labor law and represents large employers in France, the first country to enact such a law, there are specified periods of time in which the employer is permitted to contact the employee on work matters. Similar laws have also been enacted in Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Greece, Mexico, Italy and Spain. In the US, there are efforts to enact similar legislation in California, where the bill would allow employees to file a complaint against an employer, if they present three documented cases of violations of the right to disconnect, which is punishable by a fine of at least $100.

In Germany, says Adv. Shmuelevich, huge companies decided of their own accord to prevent employees from access to work after a certain hour, and disconnect the server until the beginning of the next working day. The European country that has gone the furthest with restrictions is Portugal, where the employer cannot contact the employee after 5pm and any violation results in significant fines.

In the Canadian province of Ontario, similar provincial legislation already exists, in which employers are required to form a policy for work outside working hours. “This province was in the wake of French legislation that was implemented several years ago, as part of an international move,” explains Adv. Israel Gadlov, a partner at Gideon Rubin & Co. law firm. “The legislation there allows an employer with 25 or more employees to create a clear policy in this matter. An employee who is accepted into such a workplace should receive a clear document from the employer explaining to them when it is possible and forbidden to contact them, in which situations, and also when they are required to answer and when they are not.”

Adv. Demeo adds, “This is a sensible approach, as no one-size-fits-all policy could possibly account for the various needs of every type of workplace. For example, a single location factory is likely to have a very different Disconnecting From Work policy than an organization with offices spanning multiple provinces, countries, and/or time zones.”

Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland also commented on the legislative bill for the right to disconnect, and observed, “We must recognize the pressures that all Canadians, but especially young Canadians, are under.” Indeed, the “right to disconnect” legislation is part of a series of measures in the Canadian fiscal plan aimed at Millennial and Generation Z employees – measures expected to cost $4.2 million.

Adv. Demeo says this measure was preceded by increased supervision and enforcement measures on federally supervised employers who use contractors, freelancers and ‘temporary workers,’ as well as job and skills training for Generation Z employees.

“The aim of the new law is to enable the encouragement of integration and export in the Canadian labor market, to establish a solid workforce and strengthen the Canadian economy. Among other things, for the sake of reducing attrition among the Millennial generation and Generation Z and to enable the separation of private space from work,” adds Adv. Gadlov. He says that the implementation of the right to disconnect will not apply to the private sector either, but it has the potential to lead to other sectors. Although it is currently only intended for the public sector, the bill does not belong to a certain type of employee, but to everyone.

Israel still has no plans

In Israel the issue is not high on the legislator’s agenda. Prof. Muhammad Asali, an expert in discrimination in the job market, explains, “Employers in general, and it seems that employers in Israel even more so, demand full availability beyond official working hours. Working from home and new technology make it possible to correspond, text, talk, and hold conference calls at all hours of the day, and therefore it can be assumed that employees are available at all hours of the day. This expectation, in practice, extends the work week even more, the burnout process of employees is accelerated, and ultimately it seriously damages their work productivity. No wonder in Israel we work more and produce less.”

The Work Hours and Leisure Law in Israel was enacted in 1951, and although it has undergone amendments and adjustments, no significant changes and adaptations to the digital age in which we live have taken place. “This is an archaic law whose stated purpose was to define the hours of work and leisure for employees, while maintaining their dignity, health and well-being,” explains Adv. Gadlov. “One of the consequences of not adapting to our era is the mixing of work time and rest time. The Israeli legislator has not yet given an opinion on the matter, and the workers’ organizations are not pushing hard enough to change it. Collective agreements and expansion orders often project into the economy a certain work pattern that deserves to be striven for.”

Unlike Canada, where attempts are made to adapt labor laws to the needs of the younger generation of employees, Israel views all generations of workers as one. Adv Gadlov says, “It is appropriate that there be a distinction between the generations.” He adds, “The ministries concerned are aware of the consequences, and there are still no plans by legislators to create a dialogue with labor organizations. We have not seen any legislative processes designed to create a guideline policy for employers, neither in the private nor in the public sector. Yes, there are instructions in the public sector about reporting hours beyond normal working hours, but there are no operative instructions that direct managers not to contact their employees, after the end of working hours, and there are no instructions about in which situations contact can be made.”

Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on May 2, 2024.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2024.

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