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A Bill Pushing For The Right To Disconnect And Not Answer After-Work E-mails Stays Asleep In The Congress Archives

In January 2017, the French passed a law that guarantees all employees the “right to disconnect” from all work related communication and e-mails after they leave the office. It was a revolutionary move, especially for a country that already mandates a 35-hour work week and extra long holidays.

Just last month, New York also introduced a similar bill to its City Council meeting, which penalizes employers who barrage employers for not answering e-mails, text, or calls after work hours. When passed, an employee can file a complaint the city's Department of Consumer Affairs, and the employer would have to pay $500 in fine to the employee for breaking the law. Those who are fired as punishment are also entitled to receive full compensation plus a $2,500 fine.

It might seem far-fetched for the Philippines to adapt any semblance to these laws, with so many issues already plaguing and dangling above our legislators’ heads. But surprisingly, a short trip back to memory lane—a.k.a. the Congress archives—would show us that a similar bill was filed by Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo last year.

House Bill 4721, with the full title “An act granting employees the right to disconnect from work-related electronic communications after work hours, amending for the purpose presidential decree no. 442, otherwise known as the labor code of the philippines, as amended,” was referred to the Committee on Labor and Employment last January 17, 2017.

Patterned after the French law, the house bill mandates employers to establish the hours when employees are free from responding to work-related texts, calls, and e-mails when they are off work. It also prohibits employers from punishing or reprimanding employees if they disregard an electronic communication sent after work hours.

Indeed, in the age of technology where it is so much easier to reach and contact everyone, more and more employees find themselves checking e-mails, and answering calls and texts from their superiors, even during the times that they should be technically off from work. Failure to respond would usually result to admonishment.

When France introduced the bill, French politician Benoit Hamon said about after-work work, “Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash – like a dog. The texts, the messages, the emails – they colonize the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”

As work time and personal time blurs in the advent of technology, so does the well-being of many workers. According to a research report by Kostadin Kushlev, which was published in Computers in Human Behavior in 2015, it was found that limiting the frequency of checking e-mail throughout the day reduced daily stress.

Safeguarding the health and wellness of the employees, in the long run, will also be beneficial to employers, anyway. Happier and more balanced employees are more productive and turn more quality work, while more burned out employees are prone to sickness, tardiness, laziness, and even resignation.

So what’s stopping the Philippines from pushing the bill forward?

Well, back in January, Sergio Ortiz-Luis, honorary chairman of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) called the bill an “administrative nightmare” that will disrupt salary standardization and transgress managerial prerogative regarding work hours and employee conditions.

He added that the Deparment of Labor and Employment (DOLE) will sure find it hard to create a skeleton for the implementation of the bill, and identifying which sectors and business could be exempted by such a law. What about doctors who are on-call at the emergency room? What about security personnel managing electronic databases when an emergency pops up? What about media practitioners who are covering after-hours events and news materials?

But not all employees share the sentiments of their employers. Many employees continue to clamor for more humane work hours, and the right to not work when they are not being paid to do so.

Castelo said, “Ating sinasabi, ’di na sila mare-reprimand. Hindi mag-i-impose ng disciplinary action or masususpinde pag hindi sila nag-reply o sumagot sa mga text messages outside office hours sapagkat gusto po natin na ang mga empleyadong ito ay makapagpahingang mabuti, to spend their time with their families. Nakikita naman po natin, 8-5, burnout sila. Kung sila mapipilitan pang magtrabaho after 5 p.m. eh ito ay malaking perwisyo sa mga employees."

But because of this lack of support from the ECOP, and many other factors we can only assume, House Bill 4721 now stays dormant and stuck with the Committee on Labor and Employment at the House of Representatives. It has not gained traction or momentum ever since.

As New York moves forward with their own version of the law, many workers who suffer from this “unrelenting barrage of after-work work” only hopes that the Philippines takes the cue and follow suit.