The manifesto of the Congress-NCP alliance for the Assembly elections in Maharashtra, released on Monday, promises to bring a "Right to Disconnect Bill", which promises to give employees the right not to respond to their employers' calls, text messages, or emails after office hours.
The idea is to reduce work-related stress, and the promise in the manifesto echoes a Private Member's Bill introduced in the previous Lok Sabha by the NCP's Supriya Sule last December.
What did this Bill say, and what is the rationale for "disconnecting" from employers after work hours?
Supriya Sule's "Disconnect" Bill
On December 28, 2018, Sule, the NCP MP from Baramati (she continues to represent the same constituency in the current Lok Sabha), posted on Twitter: "Introduced Three Private Member Bills in Lok Sabha today -- Tuberculosis (Prevention and Eradication) Bill 2018, Right to Disconnect 2018, and Gender Sensitization (Training and Education) Bill 2018."
The 10-page Right to Disconnect Bill proposed to give employees the right to not respond to communication from employers outside of office hours, and to mandate companies to detail out-of-work demands "as a way to reduce stress and ease tension between an employee’s personal and professional life".
Inspired by global models
Provisions similar to the ones suggested by Sule have been implemented via the French Supreme Court, and have been introduced in New York, and discussed in Germany.
Sule's Bill referred to studies done by multilateral organisations as well as studies on the productivity of labour and its links with economic theories. A study carried out by Stanford University some years ago found that employees who worked for 50 hours or more in a week -- that is, more than 10 hours every day in a five-day week -- were less productive overall than employees who had less punishing schedules. Sule's Bill also referred to research that underlined the effects on sleep patterns due to office calls after 9 pm.
"Studies have found that if an employee is expected to be available round the clock, they tend to exhibit risks of over-work like sleep deprivation, developing stress and being emotionally exhausted," Sule had told The Indian Express at the time.
"This persistent urge to respond to calls and e-mails (termed as 'telepressure'), constant checking of e-mails throughout the day, and even on weekends and holidays, is reported to have destroyed work-life balance of employees," she said.
Rights and commitments under the Bill
Sule's Bill proposed the setting up of an Employee Welfare Authority, which would include the Ministers of I-T, Communication and Labour. The Authority would publish a study regarding the impact of digital tools beyond work hours and yearly reports, and outline a charter of employee-employer negotiations.
Companies with more than 10 employees would be required to periodically negotiate specific terms with their workers, publish their own charter, and create an Employee Welfare Committee consisting of representatives of the company’s workforce, the Bill stated.
The Private Member’s Bill proposed to forbid disciplinary action if an employee failed to reply to attempts by employers to contact them outside of the established conditions. If the employee worked outside of the agreed-upon conditions, he or she would be entitled to overtime compensation, according to the Bill.
In addition, the government would have to provide employee counselling, digital detox centres, and similar resources “to free an employee from digital distractions and enable him to truly connect with the people around him”.