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Portugal bans employers from contacting staff outside of office hours

An employee working remotely from home  (PA)
An employee working remotely from home (PA)

Portugal’s governing Socialist Party has introduced a new law making it illegal for companies to contact staff outside their contracted working hours, in one of a range of new measures to regulate home-working and recalibrate the work-life balance of citizens in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Businesses will also face fines for emailing staff outside their agreed shift times and be forced to pay household expenses incurred while their employees work from home, including internet and electricity bills.

Employers will be blocked from monitoring their workers’ productivity outside the office in the interests of safeguarding personal privacy and will be required to organise face-to-face meetings at least once every two months to tackle loneliness among their teams.

Staff with children will also be given the legal right to work from home until their sons or daughters turn eight, without having to secure approval from management.

The radical new labour laws, which are a direct response to shifting working practices in lockdown over the last 18 months, were outlined by Portugal’s minister of labour and social security, Ana Mendes Godinho, during the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon at the start of November.

“The pandemic has accelerated the need to regulate what needs to be regulated,” she said last week.

“Telework can be a ‘game changer’ if we profit from the advantages and reduce the disadvantages.”

Ms Godinho also expressed her hope that such favourable conditions would attract “digital nomads” to Portugal from overseas.

“We consider Portugal one of the best places in the world for these digital nomads and remote workers to choose to live in. We want to attract them to Portugal,” she said.

While the improved emphasis on employees’ quality of life is certainly attractive, it is worth noting that the new conditions only apply to larger companies with 10 or more workers.

A “right to disconnect” proposal, empowering staff with the legal right to switch off their work devices once their designated shift comes to an end, already in play in France, was also rejected by MPs.

Other European nations including Germany, Italy and Slovakia have likewise revised their rules on home-working in recent months, but more enlightened practices still appear to be some way off in post-Brexit Britain, with Boris Johnson’s government still pursuing a policy of encouraging employees back to the office despite high daily Covid infection figures.

The British prime minister recently warned staff they risked being talked about over the watercooler if they expressed reluctance to return to their dusty old desk and outmoded PC, although his concern appeared to have more to do with boosting office-adjacent businesses such as coffee shops, gyms and dry cleaners, which are dependent on workers passing by five days a week and are thought to be worth about £30bn a year to the British economy.

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