Under a law that takes effect this week, companies are obliged to negotiate with staff over out-of-hours emails
Beginning this week, employers in France will be obliged to negotiate out-of-hours email practices with their staff under new legislation.
The law, article 55 of a sweeping labour reform that took effect on 1 January, makes France the first country to formally protect the “right to disconnect“.
As a whole the reform, aimed at making France’s labour practices more flexible, has attracted criticism, spurring protests similar to those of the “Occupy” movement, but the “right to disconnect” provision has been welcomed by unions.
It obliges companies with more than 50 staff to negotiate over their right to disconnect from communications such as emails and, more generally, to manage the intrusion of the workplace into private life.
If a deal can’t be agreed on companies must publish a charter making explicit their out-of-hours demands on staff and what rights employees have.
The law was formulated in response to the “always-on” work culture that sees employees checking messages around the clock and while on leave, and uncertain when they can switch off.
Labour unions in France see the trend as a threat to the country’s 35-hour work week and have long called for a legislative response.
It isn’t clear what effect the law will have, however, since no sanctions are specified – something the current Socialist government has said is intended to promote a climate favourable to negotiation.
A recent survey by workplace consultancy Eléas found that 62 percent of workers wanted legislation that would limit the use of digital communications technologies outside of working hours, with 37 percent saying they connect off-hours most days.
Some companies have already taken action on the issue, which is thought to contribute to employee burn-out, with Daimler deleting emails sent to staff who are on leave and Volkswagen-BMW servers blocking emails sent to employees out of work hours.
France’s government introduced the labour reforms in August of last year ahead of this year’s presidential elections.
Its liberalising reforms led to a series of protests beginning in March 2016 that began with an occupation of Paris’ Place de la République and later spread to other cities across the country as well as to Brussels, Berlin, Lisbon, Madrid, Montréal, Glasgow and elsewhere.
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