Workers in France are finally getting a chance to fulfill every employee’s dream: saying no to their boss. A new law that went into effect on January 1 gives workers permission to ignore work emails out of hours and to just say “non” to working when they’re not on the clock.
“Right to Disconnect”
Workers around the world fall prey to the trend of always being connected, meaning managers can email employees at all hours of the day and night and reasonably expect a response. That could change with the new law.
According to the new legislation, all French businesses with more than 50 employeesnew rules for online engagement with their employees, including setting rules of when emails must be returned and establishing hours when staff shouldn’t send or respond to emails. The law is an effort to make sure workers are being fairly compensated for the work they perform and to by protecting personal time.
The move is being praised by psychologists, who have warned for years that around-the-clock work emailing can be detrimental to a person’s emotional health. By never truly being away from work responsibilities, many people have naturally just turned off their emotions to deal with the pressure.
Over-connectivity can also hurt physical health and lead to great health problems, asin a study commissioned before the law went into effect. Allowing for greater separation between work and home can lead to more satisfied and healthier employees, studies find.
Even in the early weeks of the law, there is already doubt on if it will actually make a difference. Some people are questioning if a law is really the best way to solve the problem, or if companies should just impose such rules on their own time.
There are fears that when put into action, the regulation could actually hinder productivity and force larger companies to hire employees outside of France to get around the law.
The law also isn’t completely fool-proof. There isn’t a penalty for companies that don’t reach a communications agreement with their employees, meaning a company could purposefully delay talks with no intention of ever reaching an agreement. There’s also the possibility of companies or unions giving their employees raises or additional perks in exchange for being able to contact them throughout the night, which would negate the effort to protect personal time.
Questions also remain about employees who work in fast-response industries like IT, who are expected to respond to emergencies as they happen, no matter the hour. The law doesn’t have any specific provisions for those cases, and they are expected to be established by each company, perhaps by having employees who cover the night shift disconnect during earlier parts of the day.
There could also be issues with larger, global companies that have employees across multiple time zones. Banning an employee from receiving email in the middle of the night could be detrimental if they are trying to communicate with a co-worker in the United States, for example.
European companies have been trying to find the line between connected and over-connected with their employees for years., Volkswagen started deactivating its employee’s smartphones so bosses couldn’t contact them outside of work hours.
started deleting all emails received by employees who were on vacation. In 2015, French employees in the digital and consulting industries were told they would only be allowed to send and receive work emails after 6 p.m. under , but that law has been disregarded in many cases.
The new law in France has brought the question of after-hours emailing connectivity in the U.S., where many companies are notorious for contacting their employees around the clock. According to many experts, U.S. workers and bosses are already deeply engrained in their always-on communication, meaning a widespread regulation like in France would be nearly impossible to pass or implement.
France, with its 35-hour work-week and other employee-friendly laws, has always been on the leading edge of work/life balance, and this new law follows that trend. If the law can make a difference in French companies, it may be adopted by countries and companies around the world.