Calling employees after working hours: Should India Inc await laws or self-regulate?

What do you do when you receive a call from your boss after working hours? If you were in Portugal, you
need not do anything.
The law will take its own course, and the boss will face the music – as contacting workers after office hours
in the country is punishable with a fine.

With after-work-hour pressure from the office heads affecting the mental health of people, the Portugal
government framed a new law to fine employers who attempt to contact remote workers after office hours, or
work hours.
The laws also forbid employers in Portugal from monitoring employees who are working from home and
these rules apply to all organisations that employ more than ten workers. The companies also need to
contribute to expenses, including electricity and internet, incurred by employees who had to shift to remote
working during the pandemic.
Countries like France and Italy have also proposed similar laws supporting the right to disconnect. German
companies like Volkswagen and Daimler have implemented policies and stopped servers from sending
emails to employees during off-hours.
What about India? Can such laws restricting contact after work-hours be implemented in the country and can
they, if enforced, lead to better work-life balance?
Well, efforts have been made in the past, unsuccessfully though, through a private member’s bill in
the Parliament. Supriya Sule, an MP from Maharashtra, had moved a private member’s bill seeking legal
assurance that no action would be taken if an employee does not respond to work calls after office hours.
This is the closest India has come to seriously consider this right of disconnect of the workers.

For an expert insight into the Indian workplace environment and the need for such a law, ETHRWorld
interacted with Ruhie Pande, CHRO, Godrej Housing Finance, and Debashree Lad, Chief People Officer,
Does India need a contact restricting law?
Back in 2018, the Right to Disconnect Bill was introduced by Supriya Sule, an MP from the Nationalist
Congress Party (NCP), in the Lok Sabha proposing that no disciplinary action can be taken if an employee
does not respond to work-related calls after the working hours. But her ‘Private Member’s Bill’ could not
muster support and it fell through, like almost all private members’ bills fail to get through.
Speaking about the need for such laws in India, Pande said, “I truly believe government-regulated measures
are not the fix required. India has a very large workforce working across time zones in multiple industries
and sectors with their regional and global counterparts and such a law/step may be restrictive and may limit
employees and team members to establish their respective working rhythms.”
Lad felt that there are already several initiatives incorporated across various work ecosystems to provide
additional support to employees working from home. Also, she believed that there have been no stringent
work laws in the corporate sphere that restrict access to employees post the scheduled working hours.
Can such a law help maintain work-life balance?
Studies by the German Federal Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, 2017, and a 2018 report from
the Pamplin College of Business, Virginia Tech, emphasize the fact that after-hours workplace
communication produces stress, negatively affecting employee mental health, and can spill over into
affecting employees’ families.
Explaining the different workforce ecosystems of India and challenges in applying such laws of no contact,
Lad said, “In my opinion, every work ecosystem in India will require customized initiatives to improve
work-life balance. India has the 3rd largest startup ecosystem in the world, which is expected to witness
consistent annual growth of 12-15 per cent.”
Furthermore, she added, “The Indian startup ecosystem is home to around 50,000 active startups who are at
the forefront of the internet revolution in India. Implementing such rigorous work laws which are not
employer-friendly will lead to corporate chaos and will slow down corporate India’s growth story.”
Pande believed that India is yet in an evolving stage when it came to establishing a one-on-one workflow
with each of your team members and the kind of support required by an employee during their life span for
work-life balance within an organisation.
“I don’t believe such steps are needed as a standard practice to formalize work-life balance at the workplace.
One of the things that differentiate the private and public sector in India is how both these sectors approach
work-life integration and introducing such steps in India within the private sector could create an
unnecessary shift in work culture which is not required or recommended,” she asserted.
India neither ready, nor needs a law barring contact after work
Talking about any future advent of such laws, Pande said, “Indian organisations and the government have all
been focused on reinventing work norms and keeping business growing post-pandemic as well as ensuring
the safety of all the people. Multiple measures have been taken by organisations to ensure the physical and
mental wellbeing of their employees. I don’t see such a broad-brush rule being implemented by the
government or organisations.”
Lad thinks that implementing a single law of contact policy for all work spheres is a challenge. She said,
“Companies have already started taking initiatives to define the boundaries separating work and personal
space, keeping in mind the work from home scenario. India is a hub for different types of work ecosystems, ranging from large enterprises, offshore units to startups, hence implementing a single work law, suitable for
all will always be challenging for the Indian government.”


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