News2022.09.23 09:38

Changing work culture: Lithuanian MPs propose ‘right to disconnect’ legislation

With some Lithuanian MPs proposing to legislate the right of workers to be unavailable after working hours, trade unions say the scale of the issue is huge. Employers, meanwhile, do not see a problem.

The Vilnius-based law firm Cobalt employs over 120 lawyers, paralegals and support staff. The lawyers’ union has been working for some time to create a better working culture. Recently, it came up with a Charter for Responsible Business which set up guidelines, for example, on how to divide up work and how to communicate with employees.

“Before you do a meeting, before you write or call someone, you may think about how your colleague will react to the message, whether they will be able to respond effectively, whether you should call after hours, or whether it is better to postpone it to another time, another working day,” says Rimantas Simaitis, a partner at Cobalt.

According to the law firm, although the work culture is becoming more responsible, there is still room for improvement.

Some MPs in Lithuania’s parliament, Seimas, have also set out to improve working culture in the country. A group of social democrats has drafted a bill that would establish the right to be unavailable after working hours.

The law is primarily intended to shield employees from negative consequences if they do not want to answer work-related phone calls or emails after hours, says Tomas Bičiūnas, a member of the parliamentary Human Rights Committee.

According to the MP, employers and their workers will have to agree how to implement this right.

“This is both a conceptualisation and a message to employers,” says Bičiūnas. “The draft law establishes that a person has this right.”

Mindaugas Lingė, conservative MP and chairman of the Committee on Social Affairs, argues that more measures will be needed to enforce the right to disconnect.

“It will not be enough, just the provision as it is written in the draft Labour Code, and then the question is, what if there is non-compliance, what are the procedures, what are the sanctions, what are the competences of the institutions dealing with labour disputes, and the like?” says Lingė.

The Confederation of Industrialists, an employers’ association, argues that there is no need to enshrine the right to disconnect into law.

“After the pandemic, many companies have already agreed to let their employees to work in a mixed way, both from home and from the office, and if it is necessary to contact them after work, again by bilateral agreement, there are bonuses and salary increases,” says Ričardas Sartatavičius, president of the Confederation of Industrialists.

Danas Arlauskas, head of the Confederation of Employers, is also sceptical about the proposal.

“What if there is some kind of trouble, or maybe the employee wants to congratulate their manager on their birthday or the birth of a child? What, you won’t be able to call at all? And if an employee did something, made a mistake, and it only emerges after work, what, you can’t call them either?” Arlauskas wonders.

Trade unions disagree – the scale of the problem of workers being disturbed after hours is huge. It has grown especially during the pandemic, when the boundaries between work and life became more blurred.

“In particular, people say that their employer does not want to activate this standby mode, because it will have to be paid for,” says Inga Ruginienė, president of the Confederation of Trade Unions.

According to her, many employers make it clear during work interviews that would-be employees are expected to devote time to the job even beyond official working hours.

According to trade unions, this may lead not only to psychological discomfort, but also to poorer performance.

LRT has been certified according to the Journalism Trust Initiative Programme

Newest, Most read