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Right to disconnect: reexamination of after-hours work

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The right to disconnect from work is a rising concern among employees wanting to separate work from their personal time, which has prompted some companies and the government to reexamine this blurred line.

“I feel frustrated when my boss gives work orders via KakaoTalk after I leave the office,” a 31-year-old surnamed Kim told the JoongAng Ilbo Thursday. “My boss said ‘Don’t worry about it if you are busy,’ but the fear of what might happen if I didn’t comply, compelled me to keep working.”

An employee of another company, 34, claimed she was reprimanded by her boss for not replying to a work message in a group chatroom after work hours.

Of the 415 people surveyed by the job portal JobKorea between March 14 and April 5, 64.3 percent said they “frequently” do additional work at home even after leaving the office. Of those surveyed, 6.7 percent said they have never worked at home beyond work hours.

The government is looking at prohibiting work-related messages after work hours, in line with the Yoon Suk Yeol administration’s push for labor reforms. The Labor Ministry in March launched a task force to probe into measures to secure rights around disconnecting after work hours and pledged to draw up a policy plan within this year.

Since 2017, France has required companies with more than 50 workers to agree with their labor unions on establishing what times employees are not allowed to communicate via technology after work hours.

Italy also required companies to come up with designated times and organizational measures necessary to ensure that workers are disconnected from technological devices that same year.

Employers in the Philippines cannot take disciplinary actions against employees who ignore work-related communication sent after work hours.

Some companies attempt to reform their corporate structure by banning unpaid overtime work.

LG Electronics began a cultural reform campaign in May last year to encourage employees to only communicate using a separate company messenger when discussing work online. The home appliance maker advises its employees to use collaboration software to reduce unnecessary meetings and briefings.

Samsung Electronics encourages employees to separate work from personal time by using a company messenger when having work-related discussions. The messenger displays an alert message with “the hour is late” notice to those accessing the messenger between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

CJ Group has been running a campaign since 2017 to stop work instructions via technology past work hours and on weekends, and LG Uplus in 2016 banned messaging about work after 10 p.m.

Foreign companies are more progressive about this concern. According to Gyeonggi Research Institute, Volkswagen cuts off its email server from sending emails to employees who are off-shift and Daimler in 2014 added an email-shredding option in its server that automatically deletes emails sent to the inbox of an off-duty employee.

Experts say voluntary efforts by companies are key in consolidating this right to disconnect from work.

“The expansion of a reformed corporate culture is more important,” said Lee Young-myon, a professor of business administration at Dongguk University. “If businesses lead, the societal culture itself will change before any legislation.”

BY KO SUK-HYUN [sohn.dongjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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