Germany’s employment ministry has banned its managers from calling or emailing staff out of hours except in emergencies, under new guidelines intended to prevent employees from burning out.
The guidelines state that ministry staff should not be penalized for switching off their mobiles or failing to pick up messages out of hours.
The move follows similar restrictions on out-of-hours email imposed by German firms including Volkswagen, BMW and Puma.
VW stops forwarding emails to staff from its company servers half an hour after the end of the working day, while other firms have declared that workers are not expected to check email at weekends or in their free time.
The labour ministry’s rules only allow contact if the task cannot be postponed until the next working day. Managers should apply a principle of “minimum intervention” into workers’ free time and keep the number of people whose spare time is disrupted as low as possible.
The code is part of a broader agreement covering remote working. Ursula von der Leyen, the labour minister, told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung the rules had been drawn up to protect workers’ mental health. The minister said that it was important for remote workers to know: “When they have to be available, and when they don’t. They now have this clarity in black and white.”
“It’s in the interests of employers that workers can reliably switch off from their jobs, otherwise, in the long run, they burn out,” she said.
The minister called on companies to set clear rules over the out-of-hours availability of their workers earlier this year, warning that: “technology should not be allowed to control us and dominate our lives. We should control technology.”
The culture of routinely checking emails in spare time came under the spotlight in July, when the chief executive of Switzerland’s biggest telecoms group was found dead at his flat in a suspected suicide.
In an interview in May, Carsten Schloter, boss of Swisscom, criticized the need to be permanently engaged.
“The most dangerous thing that can happen is that you drop into a mode of permanent activity,” he said. “When you permanently check your smartphone to see if there are any new emails. It leads to you not finding any rest whatsoever.”