One of the effects of a new set of employment reforms that took effect on January 1, 2017 is that employees in France now have the right to disconnect from work emails when out of the office, in a nationwide move that is the first of its kind in the world.
The aim is to confront the blurring of professional and personal lives caused by permanent connectivity, as laptops, smartphones and tablets that enable emails to be read – wherever we are and whatever the time of day – start to encroach upon evenings, weekends and time off work. The right to disconnect has now been formally recognized in law, in an effort to incite companies with more than 50 employees to adhere to stipulated working hours and agreed paid leave, while also ensuring that personal and family commitments are respected.
The French government’s preferred path is one of flexibility and negotiation within companies rather than introducing and enforcing employer obligations, as the law encourages businesses to find solutions to restrict round-the-clock use of digital technology that suit all parties.
A number of companies have already led the way with initiatives in this respect, including German vehicle maker Volkswagen, which has been cutting smartphone access to its email servers between 6.15pm and 7am since 2011; French telecoms firm Orange, which has introduced ‘good manager conduct’ guidelines recommending that emails not be sent out too late into the evening, unless exceptional circumstances dictate otherwise; and French e-commerce website PriceMinister, which already has a monthly ‘email-free morning’ to encourage employees to talk to each other face-to-face more often.