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French employees have legal right not to check emails outside work

E-Mails | HR Solutions

From 1 January 2017, employees in France will have the legal right to ‘disconnect’ from work while out of hours. French employers will have to guarantee that their workers have a ‘right to disconnect’ from technology.

Companies with over 50 workers will have to outline when it’s acceptable for staff to be offline outside the workplace.

France wants to eliminate compulsive email checking outside work and introduce policies to encourage flexible working but avoiding burnout. Experts blame excessive use of digital devices for causing burnout, poor sleep and relationship problems. Many employees simply don’t know when they can switch off from work.

The new law aims to tackle the permanently switched on work culture that’s led to a rise in unpaid overtime. It will also allow employees the flexibility of working outside the office whilst understanding their employers’ expectations. It was introduced after a report published in 2015 warned about the impact of ‘info-obesity’ affecting many workplaces.

Companies must agree a policy with staff on their rights to switch off and how they can reduce the intrusion of work on their personal life. If they cannot reach an agreement, the company must publish a policy outlining the expectations of staff and their rights outside of working hours.

Third of French workers use devices to work out of hours every day

This new “right to disconnect” is part of a wider reform of French labour law. However, it carries no sanctions for employers who fail to define it.

A study published by a French research group last year, showed more than a third of workers in France used their devices to work out of hours every day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, around 60% of French employees supported regulation that finally clarified their rights. Many say it’s essential as employees often feel judged on their commitment to their jobs and their availability.

Volkswagen and Daimler in Germany and Axa in France already limit out-of-hours communications to reduce burnout among staff. Some of the new measures have included disconnecting email in the evening and weekends. Some have gone as far as automatically deleting emails sent to employees when they are on holiday.

Balance

Employers will need to take into account demands from employees for both protection and flexibility. Some workers may want to work for a couple of hours each evening, but be able to ‘switch off’ between certain times in the afternoon. Whereas other people may prefer to work during their train journey to work.

The world of work is certainly changing, with more employees working remotely and also dealing with clients and colleagues in different time zones. It is crucial that employers define the boundaries between work and home so staff feel confident enough to say that they are offline and not available.

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