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Study may pave way for ‘anti-stress law’ to protect employees in Germany

Out-Law News | 02 Sep 2014 | 10:29 am | 1 min. read

Germany’s federal minister of labour and social affairs, Andrea Nahles, has said new ‘anti-stress’ legislation could be introduced to ban companies from contacting employees when they are not at work.

Nahles told the Rheinische Post that she has commissioned a report into the viability of legislation aimed at restricting firms from sending emails to staff outside of work, such as during holidays, in response to “rising levels” of workplace stress.

Nahles said: “There is an undeniable relationship between constant availability and the increase of mental illness. We have commissioned the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to work out whether it is possible to set load thresholds. We need universal and legally binding criteria.”

Many companies in Germany already tackle this issue and firms “can and should learn from each other”, Nahles said.

The findings of the study commissioned by Nahles is expected to be presented in 2015.

It is already illegal in Germany for employees to contact staff during holidays. Several major companies such as Volkswagen and BMW have also implemented their own restrictions on contacting employees out of hours. Last year, Germany’s federal ministry for labour and social affairs banned managers from contacting staff outside of work. Car manufacturer Daimler has reportedly installed software on its systems which automatically deletes emails sent to staff when they are on holiday.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal earlier this year Clemens Kirschbaum, professor of psychology at the Dresden University of Technology, said: “Multi-tasking work and family life and being constantly available on smartphones and email has led to a definite increase in chronic stress here. Far too little time is spent switched off, just to withdraw in peace. It’s not conducive to good health” and can lead to hypertension, burn-out, and depression.”

The prevalence of work-related stress in Europe is very high, according to a poll of 16,662 workers, from 31 countries, published in April 2014 by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (66-page / 512 KB PDF). The survey indicated that 51% of workers said work-related stress was common in their workplace, while four in ten workers felt stress was not handled well in their organisation.