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The French 6pm email ban

BY Paul Deans
Employment Law & HR
BG Purple

You look at your watch; it’s late, time to go home. Of course, there’s no harm in having a cheeky glance at your work phone on the train back and maybe answer one or two more emails to lighten the load for tomorrow morning.

Sometimes there’s also a slight temptation to check your account at dinner, in the gym, in front of the TV, in the bath and maybe even in bed…

Certainly, this pattern does beg the question- do we ever stop working?

Well the French believe they have the answer: an out of hours email ban! This controversial life-balance revolution has of course divided media opinion and caused many hardcore workaholics to turn ill with anxiety.

France is now introducing a set of rules to protect employees in the digital and consultancy industry from continuing to work via email after their contractual hours. Since 1998 France has had a 35 hour working week; which is significantly lower than our own 48 hour week introduced by the Working Time Regulations. The thought behind the ban was that our increasingly digitalised age has pressurised many people into working beyond maximum working time and that the Working Time Directive offers very little protection because it was originally drafted long before the world became dependant on smart technology.

In terms of our own Working Time Regulations, the incorporation of these new rules has certainly provoked thought on whether such a system could ever be transposed in our own jurisdiction.  Of course, as wonderful as a 6pm email ban (and a 35 hour working week) sounds, in practice it is unlikely that the professions that need it most will be included in its scope. Like the WTR any such set of rules will be subject to a myriad of exemptions and limited in its scope by opt out agreements. In addition it would be very difficult to regulate because the vast majority of people who do email after hours, tend to do it because they actually want to.

It will be interesting to see how France adopts these changes but for the time being, workaholics in the UK can breathe a sigh of relief and feel free to have just one more cheeky glance at their phone…

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