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Right to disconnect

Labor groups and the Department of Labor and Employment are seeing the need to strictly enforce the workers’ right to disconnect amid the upswing in the incidence of work-related stress.

In the case of licensed psychologist Charlene Lucas who has been attending to an average of 20 to 40 clients per month since the COVID-19 pandemic begun, she has observed that about 15 to 25 complain about their mental health getting affected by work-related issues, stress and/or burnout.

Lucas said the number of people seeking consultations increased as the work-from-home (WFH) setup was adopted by most companies nationwide to avoid the spread of the highly infectious coronavirus.

She bared that the WFH arrangement is one of the primary reasons why her clients, particularly those who have children and elderly living with them, have become stressed out. Heavy workload and difficulty adjusting to WFH arrangements as well as poor relationship with the boss and coworkers are also cited as among the top reasons for stress.

It was noted employees have difficulty concentrating when they have to work while dealing with a lot of things at home. The stress can lead to burnout or mental health issues if not properly or immediately addressed.

Lucas stressed the importance of employees firmly asserting their “right to disconnect” from their job even while telecommuting. She noted that “healthy boundaries should be set in all aspects of our lives, including work.”

As dissociation from work is necessary at this time when most people are working from home and work hours cross over to personal time, labor groups are demanding for the “right to disconnect” from work to be given prime consideration as it is part of occupational safety and health standards.

Labor Undersecretary Benjo Benavidez said there is no law explicitly granting workers the right to disconnect from work. However the labor code stipulates working hours during which employees are mandated to report for work and perform their duties. He said the right to disconnect should be based on voluntary engagement between the worker and the employer. This can be included in the employment contract or if a new law is enacted.

COVID has changed the world and the WFH arrangement could be a positive development if employers, the government and employees can work together to craft the labor guidelines and necessary legislation that can prevent abuse and ultimately benefit everyone. The way things are, very few stakeholders have been able to achieve an acceptable work-life balance where exploitation and unnecessary stress is minimized without sacrificing productivity and desired results. With WFH becoming part of the new normal in a post-pandemic world, constant improvements to this relatively new arrangement are a must.*

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May 2022
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