Portugal Bans After-Hours Work Emails. Parents in the US Need That Now.

Workplaces who bother employees during off-hours can now be fined.

by Ethan Freedman
A mom trying to spend time with her kids while answering after-hours work emails on her phone

Your workday ends, you close your computer and you finally head downstairs to hang out with your kids and cook some dinner, except… *DING* You check your phone. Another email from the boss with the subject line “One More Thing.” You turn around and go back into the work cave, postponing that quality time with the kids — and frankly much-needed break from the 9-5+ grind — just a little bit longer.

That situation stinks, and it happens far too often. But lawmakers in Portugal recently alleviated people from the burden of the after-work email – by outright banning it, The New York Times reports.

According to the Times, other than in emergency scenarios, employers who contact their employees during their daily time off will face fines. The law will also shift some of the costs of electricity and internet bills for remote workers onto companies and universally approves remote work for parents of younger kids, the paper reports. Portugal isn’t the only place thinking about this either – similar policies have been put in place elsewhere in Europe, such as France and Ireland, reports CNBC.

These kinds of policies carry some serious upsides for employees. For one, it eliminates the awkwardness of choosing whether or not to reply to those late-night texts from management. It also puts the onus on employers to set reasonable work-life balances, not on employees to set that for themselves.

There are some gray areas in the new law, points out Jacobin, including how managers might define “emergency scenario.” And the law, of course, will need to actually be enforced – if they don’t really expect a fine, employers might skirt the new rules.

But these kinds of protections offer employees new protections against work taking over their lives, especially as traditional work-life balance protections have degraded with the rise of remote work and non-traditional hours. Whereas once employees were expected to clock in and clock out, creating timed schedules, employees today often fluctuate between work and life, especially while working from home. While that allows for flexibility, it also allows for managers to sneak in and demand more and more of an employee’s time.

After the explosion of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, families have had to adapt to new working conditions – and some have loved the new flexibility. But many parents also report working more hours at home, which can easily happen without the hard boundary of a commute.

Portugal’s new law could help employees with more fluid workplaces and work expectations stick to the old rallying cry of “eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what you will.” And while nothing similar is on the horizon in the US, many American parents facing those same, dreaded 10 PM text messages could probably use similar protections too.