A new French law gives employees the right to ignore emails and texts outside office hours. The law entered into force on January 1, 2017. However, it is not legally-binding for companies.
The law aims to reduce work-related stress. The new employment law requires companies with more than 50 employees to set policies with their workers to limit work-related technology usage outside regular office hours.
“Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached to a kind of electronic leash, like a dog,” said Benoit Hamon, Socialist Member of Parliament and former French education minister. “The texts, the messages, the emails: They colonize the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”
The ‘right to disconnect’ law aims to reduce work-related stress
It has been quite common for all of us to send a text, to call a colleague or to check some paper outside the working hours. Technology and telecommunications have become important tools in our daily life, including work. However, using our phones to continue to work even when we leave the office can cause a significant amount of stress and not being able to separate private life from professional life.
The truth is that any place can become the workplace nowadays, from the kitchen to the bedroom. It is like you are physically at home but at the o
ffice at the same time, and that can affect personal relationships. About a third of French workers use their smartphones to work out of the office every day, according to a study published by the French research group Eleas.
To avoid that, the French parliament passed a new employment law that gives workers the right to ignore messages, emails, or call from their bosses or colleagues if they are not on their working hours, without any sanction.
The legislation passed the French lower parliamentary house back in May, and it entered into force today. It is not the first time that a bill like that has been proposed in France. As well, it has been proposed on several occasions in Germany, but it has never made it to law.
The right to disconnect comes alongside other controversial reforms that were introduced last year to relax some of the strict labor regulations of France. The specific provision that permits workers to ignore emails and text from work was presented by French Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri.
According to El Khomri, he took into consideration similar policies that were introduced at the French telecommunications company, Orange regarding working hours.
“There are risks that need to be anticipated, and one of the biggest risks is the balance of a private life and professional life behind this permanent connectivity,” said Bruno Mettling, Orange Director General. “Professionals who find the right balance between private and work life perform far better in their job than those who arrive shattered” he added.
In France, they have a 35-hour workweek since the 2000. However, the policy comes under scrutiny given the recently high unemployment rate.
Is the law actually viable?
Undoubtedly, the motivation of the “right to disconnect” law is to reduce work-related stress and avoid work to intertwine with people’s personal time. It also aims to prevent the employees’ burnout to improve their competitiveness at the office. However, it has received a lot of criticism in France and abroad, mainly from people that consider that currently, with all the technology that is available, it is impossible to disconnect or to separate ourselves from work or anything else that is part of our lives.
Some are concerned about the fact that French workers might be left behind by competitors in other countries, where these labor restrictions don’t exist. According to the chief executive of PriceMinister, Olivier Mathiot, in France, they pass a lot of laws that even when made with a good purpose they do not reflect what it is needed in the workplace. He said that people require more flexibility. Mathiot also stated that the issue should be managed through education instead of legislation. However, he said that in his company they implemented a “No-email Friday” policy.
According to Dr. Anna Cox from the University of College London (UCL), companies must take into account the demands made by employees that cover protection and flexibility. She also said that for some people it is better to work for two hours every evening to be able at other moments of the day, for example, to be able to pick their kids or to prepare dinner. As well, some people need to work outside office hours to call someone who lives in a different time some.
Some groups criticize the interference of the government on the issue. For some people, a law like that is unthinkable and unviable, maybe because a lot of all are used to do some work-related activity outside the office. Even the law was discussed on the “Today Show” in May when the law was under discussion in France. Host Matt Lauer told his colleagues that a law like that would never work in the United States.
However, it is important to notice that it is not mandatory to apply it. French companies are expected to comply with the law on a voluntary basis. There are not penalties for violating the law, but there are real expectations that businesses will implement the right to disconnect as a protective measure.
Source: The Washington Post