French workers now have the ‘right to disconnect’ outside work hours

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France’s labor ministry wants to deal with stress, fatigue and relationship troubles by cutting down on work-related email time, so it has ruled that employees can now disconnect when outside work hours.

More important, employers must accept that by law. As of Jan. 1, the French government said, all workers in the country have the “right to disconnect,” meaning employees will not be obliged to answer emails, check emails or even reply to work-related messages on other messaging platforms.

The new law, which is in place for companies with over 50 workers, is there to help prevent “everything from burnout to sleeplessness as well as relationship problems, with many employees uncertain of when they can switch off,” according to Agence France-Presse.

The law is the brainchild of France’s labor minister, Myriam El Khomri. Khomri had commissioned a report last year on how health might be affected from always being online, something that could lead to what the report called “info-obesity.”

France famously has a 35-hour work week, a law that was enacted by a former socialist government in 2000. While the law has been controversial regarding how it might handicap French companies, workers in France still reportedly often work much longer hours. They do, however, receive payment for those extra hours. After the government proposed plans to amend the 35-hour work week in March this year, thousands upon thousands of protesters took to the streets.

What French workers do outside of work hours, however, could mean many more hours of work – even if that is just reading and responding to emails. When the plan to give workers the right to disconnect was first proposed back in May last year Socialist MP Benoit Hamon told the BBC that out-of-work emails were causing high amounts of stress.

“Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash — like a dog,’ Hamon said, “The texts, the messages, the emails – they colonize the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”

Photo credit: Marco Monetti via Flickr