Belgian bosses no longer allowed to contact staff out of work hours

Bosses will no longer be allowed to contact employees out of work hours under new laws in Belgium – which is also considering a four-day week

  • Civil servants will have the ‘right to disconnect’ from work enshrined in law
  • A similar arrangement is being discussed for the private sector in Belgium
  • Ministers are also considering rolling out a 40-hour four-day week 

Civil servants in Belgium will no longer have to answer work calls from their bosses outside of normal working hours.

From February 1, federal employees will have the ‘right to disconnect’ enshrined in law.

It is expected the move will be rolled out to the private sector, while a move to a four-day working week is also being considered to instill a ‘culture change’ in Belgian business.

Civil servants in Belgium will no longer have to answer work calls from their bosses outside of normal working hours (file image)

Staff may only be contacted ‘in the event of exceptional and unforeseen circumstances requiring action that cannot wait until the next working period’, the memo seen by De Morgen from the Minister of the Civil Service, Petra De Sutter, states.

A civil servant ‘should not be disadvantaged by not answering the phone or reading work-related messages outside normal working hours’, according to the new measures.

De Sutter said the change will help fight ‘excessive work stress and burnout’, particularly at a time when working from home has blurred the lines between the professional and social life.

She explained in her circular that disconnecting ‘is linked to positive well-being outcomes such as better focus, better recuperation and a more sustainable energy level’.

The minister added: ‘The computer stays on, you keep reading the e-mails you receive on your smartphone… To better protect people against this, we now give them the legal right to disconnect.’

The exceptional and unforeseen circumstances that allow a work call have not been made explicitly clear under the new rules.

Iceland’s four-year experiment with a ‘four-day working week’ has been dubbed an ‘overwhelming success’ by researchers who want the model adopted elsewhere (file)

But agreements can be made between managers and their staff or trade unions to put measures in place. 

A spokesperson for Federal Labour Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne told The Brussels Times that a similar arrangement is in place for the private sector.

This would come into effect with the introduction of the four-day week, he said. 

That proposal was tabled by the liberals in October, suggesting full-time employees would still work 38 to 40 hours a week but spread over four days instead of five.

But the socialist trade union has already spoken out against the move, saying staff should be working fewer hours per week.  

Iceland trialled a four-day week and results published last year deemed it an ‘overwhelming success’.

Workers were less stressed and had a better work-life balance while bosses saw no significant drop-off in productivity or provision of services, analysts said

As a result of the experiment, which ran from 2015 to 2019, some 86 per cent of Icelandic workers have now negotiated contracts with permanently shortened hours. 

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