The right to switch off outside work
On 1 January 2017, a French law came into force to protect a worker’s right to switch off outside work.
The law obliges organisations in France, with over 50 workers, to negotiate with their workforce to define workers’ rights to ignore their emails outside of working hours and to explain how the organisation will limit the intrusion into the worker’s private life.
The new law states that if an agreement cannot be reached between the organisation and the worker, then the organisation should publish a charter that clearly explains what they demand of workers once their working day has ended. There is, however, no sanction for companies that fail to comply, which could make enforcement difficult.
The action comes after a report was commissioned by the Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri in September 2015 trying to analyse the effects of “infobesity” on the workforce. The report held that having access to the workplace for the entirety of the day can lead to stress, fatigue, relationship problems and problems sleeping.
Volkswagen and Daimler in Germany and Areva and AXA in France have previously used various other methods to try to prevent such issues, including preventing emails going to workers’ accounts outside of their working hours or even deleting all emails sent to a worker while they are on holiday.
Objections to the move
The law only applies in France; but would it be workable in the UK?
Many workers enjoy the benefits of connecting to their work from home or another location.
Some parents like to work from 9am to 3pm, have time off for the school run and then log back on from home in the evening. This flexible style of working allows them to work full time hours but in a way that still factors in their childcare responsibilities.
Similarly, those with a long commute may prefer to work for an hour on the train before work so that they are able to leave at a reasonable time at the end of the day.
Current protections for workers
Existing protection for workers against excessive hours in the UK include the maximum 48 hour working week under the Working Time Regulations 1998.
In addition, an employer has a general obligation to monitor the health and safety of its workforce. Any unrealistic demands or expectations of availability on an employer’s part could result in claims of constructive unfair dismissal or stress related personal injury from its employees.
Some individuals actually prefer the flexibility that being able to work from home and outside core office hours brings, and, many argue that it should be the worker’s decision whether to log on or check emails.
It is unclear whether the UK will follow France’s lead; however, due to the potential for changes to UK law as we leave the EU and the likely difficulties in policing this type of law, it is unlikely that this will rank highly on the list of priorities for reform.