KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 — You’re on your couch, binge-watching a Netflix series during dinner, and in comes a WhatsApp message from your boss asking for work updates.

Reluctantly, you would still reply because there is never saying no to the boss.

But, what if you are legally allowed to put your employers on mute after work? And, maybe even get those incessantly calling you after work fined?

Australia is moving towards this reality.

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The Australian Senate recently approved a “right to disconnect” bill, which is expected to be passed into law by the parliament soon.

The new law will allow employees to ignore unreasonable calls and messages from their employers outside work hours without facing any penalties.

Before Australia, countries like France and Belgium introduced the “right to disconnect” in 2017 and 2022 respectively. Kenya is also pushing for a similar legislation in parliament.

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And now, many Malaysians are expecting our country to follow suit.

Experts who spoke to Malay Mail, however, feel that doing so could put both Malaysian businesses and consumers in jeopardy.

“It is a long shot for Malaysia,” Malaysia HR Forum and Social Compliance chief executive officer and co-founder Arulkumar Singaraveloo said.

"Malaysia still has a labour-intensive workforce and our productivity is not on par with the developed countries that have implemented the right to disconnect.

“Since smaller companies lack staff and incentives to embrace automation, employees are either recalled or asked to work overtime to complete their tasks,” he said.

Arulkumar also pointed out that unlike Malaysia, Australia has limited manufacturing capacity while European countries like France and Germany outsource manufacturing jobs to developing countries.

“If we try to follow Australia, companies have to hire more people, hiking up the cost of services and consumers have to pay for it.

“Are consumers ready for that?” he asked.

Sort flexible working arrangement first

Arulkumar said the government needs to flesh out flexible working arrangement procedures first before implementing the right to disconnect,

Section 60P of the Employment Act (Amendment) 2022, which took effect last year, allows employees to apply to their employers for a flexible working arrangement to vary their hours of work, days of work or place of work.

Employees can submit their written application in the “form and manner” determined by the Labour Director-General and within 60 days, employers can either approve or refuse the application.

But, Arulkumar said the government has not spelled out the “form and manner” for employees to submit their written applications.

“The right to disconnect can only come after we fully embrace flexible working arrangement and automation,” he said.

Similarly, one-stop employer portal A Job Thing chief executive officer Ray Teng raised questions on how the right to disconnect distinguishes reasonable requests from employers after work with unreasonable ones.

“Does the law mean employers are not allowed to call and ask some questions after working hours?

“Or, are they not allowed to call the employee to work on something after working hours? These are two different definitions.

“If calling to clarify a question, for example, in a 10-minute conversation, will cause the employer to be penalised, this may impact many business operations and productivity.

“Companies may face penalties and lawsuits, eventually increasing the cost of doing business.

“So, we cannot introduce a stringent law, completely forbidding employers from communicating with employees just because it is after working hours,” he said.

Meanwhile, Congress of Union of Employees in the Public and Civil Services (Cuepacs) secretary-general Abdul Rahman Mohd Nordin stressed that employees should voluntarily consent to work extra hours and be compensated for it.

“They should not do it out of fear that their performance review will be affected if they refuse to comply,” he said.