Right to be unreachable by work unattainable in Netherlands: expert

The right to be unreachable to your employer outside of work time is a proposal that has been circulating in Dutch politics for years. But a real legal right to be unreachable, as it exists in France, does not stand a chance in the Netherlands, Evert Verhulp, professor of employment law at the University of Amsterdam, told NU.nl.

“It is certainly good to talk about reachability outside working hours based on the existing standards,” Verhulp said. These standards have been laid down in the Civil Code, in article 611, about being a good employer. “A good employer does not bother employees outside working hours if it is not really necessary.”

The Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, discussed the law on the accessibility of employees outside working hours for the first time early this year. The MPs referred to the Working Hours Act of 1919. Before that, nothing was arranged about breaks and days off. In today’s digital age, the legislation seems to be lagging.

“People are constantly on,” said Jannes van der Velde of the employers’ organization AWVN. “And are constantly processing information.” Mobile devices make work and private increasingly intertwined, and people can always be reached.

But that is also up to the employee, professor Verhulp told the newspaper. “Some employees feel obliged to respond to every message. You can also see a message coming in and think: I’ll look at that tomorrow.” According to the labor market expert, reachability becomes a problem if people feel pressure from their employer to respond. “But that includes other problems that you cannot solve with a law.”

He thinks this type of thing should be arranged in collective bargaining agreements. “It can’t really be arranged legally. Should you block email boxes? Or ban people from emailing at certain times?” Verhulp said. “Making agreements also fits much better in the Dutch atmosphere.”

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