Right to leave the workstation
The ‘right to leave the workstation’ allows an employee to leave their workstation if they feel threatened, without retaliation from the employer. This right was invoked by many workers in the EU in the context of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
Background and status
The workers’ right to leave their workstation is provided for in Article 8, paragraph 4 of the Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989, which states that:
workers who, in the event of serious, imminent and unavoidable danger, leave their workstation and/or a dangerous area may not be placed at any disadvantage because of their action and must be protected against any harmful and unjustified consequences, in accordance with national laws and/or practices.
As this is a framework directive, this right also applies to all future individual directives without this right being recalled in each of these texts.
Council of the European Communities: Council Directive 89/391/EEC of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work
A similar right is also provided for in ILO Convention number 155. According to Article 13:
A worker who has removed himself from a work situation which he has reasonable justification to believe presents an imminent and serious danger to his life or health shall be protected from undue consequences in accordance with national conditions and practice.
- International Labour Organization: C155 – Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981
Directive 89/391/EEC has been transposed into all Member States’ law, so the provision of Article 8, paragraph 4 can be found in all national legislation. However, the Court of Justice of the European Union has not issued any judgments on this issue. As a result, a worker’s right to leave their workstation may differ between Member States and national case law may have different levels of detail regarding the extent to which workers may invoke this right.
The right to leave the workstation is also included in some international framework agreements. For instance, the Danone–IUF agreement on health, safety, working conditions and stress of 29 September 2011 states that:
in tandem with actions initiated by management, all employees must take care of their personal safety and health, as well as the safety and health of others who might be affected by their actions at work. This means, in particular: the right to leave the workplace in the event of a situation of risk to health and safety and the duty to help find a solution.