How are Digital Technologies Transforming Labor Laws?

Technology is changing the way people look at work today. Digital technological advances have led to remarkable flexibility in how, where, and when we work- especially during times like the present when the entire world is going through a global pandemic requiring flexible work policies. COVID-19 has allowed people to set up offices at home and make use of digital live streaming to replace in-office meetings. Working remotely with colleagues from different parts of the world has never been easier as we can now stay connected over millions of miles. Whether it is working from home, a coffee shop, or even the airport, anything is possible and accepted, as long as the work gets done. Online job platforms have allowed people to work independently and remain engaged without ever losing contact with their colleagues and clients.

Even though the increased flexibility is definitely an achievement, labor laws have also been affected as risks and challenges to the new changes continue to be recognized. Now that work-from-home is common, where do we draw a line between an employee’s work time and leisure time? Employers might expect their workers to be available on email or call 24/7, so are we becoming chaotic machines that do not have time to pursue hobbies? How do we strike a balance between flexible work hours and living our personal lives?

Working Hours

Across the European Union, the Working Time Directive has tried to protect their employees by ensuring no employee works more than 48 hours per week. Eleven consecutive hours of rest are necessary each day, along with a full 24 hours off every week. Moreover, workers are eligible to have paid leave of a minimum of four weeks in a year.

Due to advancements in digital technologies, eight-hour working days have now extended into leisure time as employees have become easily reachable via their smartphones. Moreover, there are rising questions around the “period of rest.” Is it considered an interruption if an employer expects his worker to reply to emails after work hours or over the weekend? The European Court of Justice believes that when employees are on a break, no work obligation should hold them back.

However, employees mostly allow interruptions after work as an obligation that comes with the benefit of increased flexibility. Even though overburdening employees in their leisure time is illegal, this practice is largely unregulated.

Home Office and Employee Surveillance

Now that more and more employees are working remotely, employers have no option but to trust their workers, especially because supervision is not always possible.

According to the law, no employer is allowed to use the private data of the employee. This means that there are some legalities that need to be considered if employers wish to monitor their workers’ IT equipment. For example, cell phones collect data. If the employer wants to access this, a works council agreement must be obtained legally in many countries. However, for the most part, the past year has seen an increase in productivity across the world suggesting that flexibility and the use of tech advances are having a positive impact on the workplace.

Digital technology does, without a doubt, affect labor law. The challenge is to use it wisely and fairly to ensure employee and employer protection. To learn more, visit Global People Strategist.

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