French workers win right to disconnect

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French workers win “right to disconnect”

right to disconnect

A new law now requires French companies to guarantee a “right to disconnect” to their employees.  The country seeks to tackle the modern-day scourge of compulsive out-of-hours email checking.

From Jan. 1, a new employment law entered into force. It obliges organisations with more than 50 workers to start negotiations. These negotiations then define the rights of employees to ignore their smartphones.

The overuse of digital devices is blamed for everything from burnout to sleeplessness. Moreover, it has been shown to cause relationship problems, with many employees uncertain of when they can switch off.

The French measure intends to tackle the so-called always-on-work culture that has led to a surge in usually unpaid overtime. While also giving employees flexibility to work from outside the office.

“There’s a real expectation that companies will seize on the ‘right to disconnect’ as a protective measure,” said Xavier Zunigo, a French workplace expert, as a new survey on the subject was published in October.

“At the same time, workers don’t want to lose the autonomy and flexibility that digital devices give them,”added Zunigo. He is an academic and director of research group Aristat.

The measure was introduced by Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri. He commissioned a report submitted in September 2015 that warned about the health impact of “info-obesity” which afflicts many workplaces.


The new law obliges companies to negotiate with employees to agree on their rights to switch off, as well as think of ways they can reduce the intrusion of work into their private lives.

If a deal cannot be reached, the company must publish a charter that would make explicit the demand son right and out-of-hours employees.

Trade unions in France, which see themselves as guardians of France’s highly protected workplace and famously short working week of 35, have demanded action.

but the new “right to disconnect,” part of a much larger and controversial reform of French labor law, foresees no sanctions for companies that fail to define.

Left-leaning French newspaper Liberation praised the move. Saying that the law was needed because “employees are often judge on their commitment to their companies and their availability.”

Some large groups such as Volkswagen and Daimler in Germany, or nuclear power company Areva and insurer Axa in France have already taken steps to limit out-of-hours messaging to reduce burnout among workers.

Some measures include cutting email connections in the evening and weekends. Or even destroying emails automatically that employees receive whilst they are on holiday.

A study published by French research group Eleas in October showed that more than a third of French workers used their devices to do work out of hours every day.


Around 60 percent of workers were in favour of regulating to clarify their rights.

But computing and work-life balance expert Anna Cox from University College London (UCL) says that companies must take into account demands from employees for both protection and flexibility.

“For some people, they want to work for two hours every evening, but want to be able to switch off between 3-5 p.m. when they pick their kids up and are cooking dinner.”

Others are happy to use their daily commute to get ahead before they arrive in the office, she explained.

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