Have you heard about the new “right to disconnect” law in France that has finally come into effect on January 1, 2017? Don’t believe all the hype!
While the law may be the first in the world to attempt to address the modern reality of around-the-clock connectivity of employees, the law does not have any concrete requirements other than to come up with a plan to address the problem or any real penalties attached if such a plan does not work. French employers of 50 or more employees are already required to discuss with their works council, on a yearly basis, a plan to provide for the professional equality of men and women and to provide for work-life balance.
Article L.2242-8 of the Labor Code now includes the following as one aspect of the required discussion on work-life balance (translated from the original French):
The full exercise by the employee of his right to disconnect and the establishment by the company of means to regulate the use of digital tools, with a view to ensuring respect for rest periods and leave, as well as personal and family life. In the absence of agreement, the employer shall draw up a charter, after consultation with the works council or (in the absence of a works council) employee delegates. This charter defines the procedures for the exercise of the right to disconnect and furthermore provides for the implementation, for employees and management, of training and awareness-raising activities on the reasonable use of digital tools.
Despite the lack of concrete requirements to actually limit connectivity, employers may want to go through the exercise to determine reasonably feasible guidelines in consultation with the works council. Doing so may avoid unfavorable consequences such as: (1) your works council claiming that the company is preventing it from doing its job; (2) employees claiming “burn out” due to stress; and (3) employees claiming that they are entitled to overtime compensation for reading emails outside of work hours.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that the law does not provide a real right for employees to refuse to work or to “disconnect”— it only creates an obligation for companies established in France to promulgate guidelines to ensure the right balance between professional and personal life.