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New French Law Prohibits After-Hours Work Emails 477

Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Lucy Mangan reports at The Guardian that a new labor agreement in France means that employees must ignore their bosses' work emails once they are out of the office and relaxing at home – even on their smartphones. Under the deal, which affects a million employees in the technology and consultancy sectors (including the French arms of Google, Facebook, and Deloitte), employees will also have to resist the temptation to look at work-related material on their computers or smartphones – or any other kind of malevolent intrusion into the time they have been nationally mandated to spend on whatever the French call la dolce vita. "We must also measure digital working time," says Michel De La Force, chairman of the General Confederation of Managers. "We can admit extra work in exceptional circumstances but we must always come back to what is normal, which is to unplug, to stop being permanently at work." However critics say it will impose further red tape on French businesses, which already face some of the world's tightest labor laws." (Continues)
"However according to Simon Kelner French productivity levels outstrip those of Britain and Germany, and French satisfaction with their quality of life is above the OECD average. "No wonder, we may say. We'd all like to take a couple of hours off for lunch, washed down with a nice glass of Côtes du Rhône, and then switch our phones off as soon as we leave work. It's just that our bosses won't let us.""
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New French Law Prohibits After-Hours Work Emails

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 10, 2014 @10:15AM (#46713749)

    If I'm off the clock, I should be able to completely ignore work and everything work-related. I should be able to leave my work smartphone in the office.

    • by pezpunk ( 205653 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @10:23AM (#46713861) Homepage

      i agree. unfortunately, that's "un-American".

    • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Thursday April 10, 2014 @10:30AM (#46713945) Journal

      If I'm off the clock, I should be able to completely ignore work and everything work-related.

      In a fair world you would be able to. Of course, in a fair world people also wouldn't check Facebook during business hours, or read personal e-mails, answer texts/calls their personal cell phones, shop on Amazon, or gossip with their coworkers at the coffee pot/water cooler outside of designated break times.

      The work-life balance tilts both ways. YMMV, but I come out significantly ahead when I compare the personal things I do on company time against the occasional phone call or e-mail I handle during the evening or on the weekend.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        In a fair world you'd be able to accept more responsibilty in exchange for a set of benefits (salary, etc) you considered fair. I've interviewed for (and been offered and variously accepted) jobs ranging from a 9-to-5 position for a utility company that would be very stable and practically permanent to one at a startup with a small staff that meant only a couple of people were responsible for crucial 24/7 infrastructure. The former paid less but was, again, stable. The latter paid more, with promise of rewa

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          If I'm willing to carry a mobile device outside of business hours, what bureaucrat's business is it to tell me I can't?

          Exactly! If you choose to accept the responsibility of the job, extending to after-hours work, then you should have the right to do so unmolested. However, a business should not *require* this of anyone who is not willing to do it. If the job will need 24/7 support, then the business should be up front about that when hiring for the position.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 10, 2014 @12:18PM (#46715297)

            If I'm willing to carry a mobile device outside of business hours, what bureaucrat's business is it to tell me I can't?

            Exactly! If you choose to accept the responsibility of the job, extending to after-hours work, then you should have the right to do so unmolested. However, a business should not *require* this of anyone who is not willing to do it. If the job will need 24/7 support, then the business should be up front about that when hiring for the position.

            The fundamental problem is that it's another Race to the Bottom. Once Company A demands workers do work above and beyond what fits in a workday, then Company B will feel pressed to to likewise to maintain competitiveness. Followed by Company C, and so forth until it becomes the new normal.

            Once upon a time in the USA many localities had laws that forbade businesses to be open on Sundays. That went by the board because it's not just companies that compete - the work-on-Sunday towns touted their lack of restriction when wooing new business just like the South still does with regard to labor unions and right-to-work.

            • I don't disagree with the idea - I haven't done any testing or anything, but to me it seems like that might be a bit backwards.

              Little startups are competing with major players - in almost all of the tech fields that seems to be the case. If they aren't "competing", they are working with much larger companies...companies that can afford to pay a team of monkeys to do 24/7 service. The smaller companies have to be able to compete (or at least pretend they're as "professional" (because for some reason 24/7 o

        • If I'm willing to carry a mobile device outside of business hours, what bureaucrat's business is it to tell me I can't?

          Because it's a race to the bottom. Because people like you will do it, over time it becomes expected of everybody, and all jobs. And then the advantage you have of being first to submit disappears anyway.

          One of the things that government has a part in is standards. And a branch of standards is working standards that stop employees from being exploited by employers.

      • by Pope ( 17780 )

        Right, because no one goofed off at work before the internet came along.

      • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @12:59PM (#46715651)

        or gossip with their coworkers at the coffee pot/water cooler outside of designated break times.

        Fair enough. And in turn the employer can't expect the employees to take into account anything that hasn't been formally explained to them through official channels, having banned unofficial ones. I suspect the end result would be an utter disaster, but then again, bean-counting usually is.

    • If I'm off the clock, I should be able to completely ignore work and everything work-related.

      Lots of French people can ignore everything work related, since they have 11% unemployment, 25% for people aged 18-25. The last thing France needs is yet another reason for businesses to locate elsewhere.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 10, 2014 @10:15AM (#46713751)

    Isn't that Italian?

  • Good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by guytoronto ( 956941 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @10:16AM (#46713763)
    Tight labour laws are not something to be feared.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Yes, they are. Unrestrained legalism isn't the virtue that you think it is. It is the means of tyranny uses to creep into our world. But you're okay with tyranny, as long as it is your kind of tyranny, and that is a pity.

      • by Linzer ( 753270 )

        I work under tight labour laws, and if you insist on calling that tyranny, then yes, I am perfectly okay with at least this much tyranny.

    • My boss already knows that I don't obsess over email during my off hours. If it's important enough to need my immediate attention like a major outage, they will call me. No law required a good employer wouldn't expect you to respond to email 24/7 anyway.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by QuantumPion ( 805098 )

      So basically "slow down over there, you're making the rest of us look bad" enshrined into law.

      Next thing you know, they'll be passing a law so that companies must pay salary based on employees need rather then their productivity, because it's not fair that an engineer with a big family gets paid less than a single engineer just because he's not as good at the job.

      I swear, it's as if these people read the first half of Atlas Shrugged and said "oh hey, that's a good idea, let's do that!"

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 10, 2014 @10:17AM (#46713775)

    I already ignore my bosses' emails during working hours.

  • Ah, so this explains why Silicon Valley is located in France.

    Seriously, if someone wants to work crazy hours, why not let them?

    I had that phase in my career, and it paid off. I'm in a different phase now. I just choose not to work after hours. If my employer didn't like that, I'd have found a better job by now. Same thing for travel - I used to travel a ton. Now I don't want to, and so I found a place to work with no travel. I'm a grownup, I can take care of myself, thank-you-very-much.

    • by guytoronto ( 956941 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @10:23AM (#46713865)
      We don't let people work crazy hours because it allows employers to take advantage of the desperate, poor, and ignorant.
      • But if the people are ignorant, they won't be aware of the laws that stop employers from requiring them to more hours. If they're desperate and poor, even if they know the laws, they may choose to ignore the laws, because having a job is better then no job. And even if it was possible to enforce, employers would still find other ways to take advantage of their employees.
    • by Eunuchswear ( 210685 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @10:29AM (#46713941) Journal

      Seriously, if someone wants to work crazy hours, why not let them?

      Nothing stopping you.

      All this says is the boss can't fire you for not replying to his out-of-hours email.

      (Previously, he might have made an attempt to accuse you of "faut grave", a grave dereliction of duty, which could get you fired without unemployment insurance).

    • Don't let the bad headline fool you - it's a legally binding agreement - though exactly what it legally binds the parties to is not entirely clear, as I don't read French and I don't trust the Grauniad's jovial interpretation of it - but it's not a law.

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @10:20AM (#46713823)

    get rid of salary pay / make it have a high level before you get out of having to pay OT.

    once workers start billing OT for doing work stuff at home then it will stop.

    • In the 1980's, IBM (among others) invested lots of money to have legislation passed that makes programmers, engineers, and sysadmins into "salaried professionals" so that they wouldn't have to pay overtime.

      The only way that could possibly be reversed is a group larger and more powerful than the owners of tech companies fighting to reverse it; that is to say, the organized tech workers will have fight for our own standard of living. We won't be able to do that until we are actually organized, though. Perhaps the sporadically striking fast food workers who were previously thought to be powerless can set an example for us.

      • In the 1980's, IBM (among others) invested lots of money to have legislation passed that makes programmers, engineers, and sysadmins into "salaried professionals" so that they wouldn't have to pay overtime.

        What legislation was this specifically that forced these folks to be "salaried" because I never heard of such a thing?

        • Sorry, that was 1996. I don't think it "forced" anyone to become salaried on its own, but it did give employers the right to deny overtime.

          Between equal rights, force decides; unorganized workers have basically no force compared to the company.

          http://www.generalcounsellaw.c... [generalcounsellaw.com]

      • by afidel ( 530433 )

        Or, you know we could negotiate a salary that we are happy with given the job descriptions we are applying for. Since I make between 2 and 3 times the median wage I'm ok with answering some emails off hours or waking up to a page once every 6 months due to a system problem. Then again I'm a tech lead and hence management so I'd be exempt under just about any rules =)

        • See what that gets you after a few years when your salary has effectively dropped 5% due to raises failing to keep pace with inflation. Where do you turn when all the jobs in town are shit and your pay is stagnating? There's not always an individual option available.

          At that point, the only option left will be collective action against the company. The only question remaining is how long it will take for tech workers to pull their heads out of their asses and realize that half of them will never afford retirement at the current pace of things.

  • by cyberchondriac ( 456626 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @10:26AM (#46713895) Journal
    That's good for workers in the short term, it really is ridiculous how much work intrudes into our personal lives anymore, to where a company can practically own you; I can somewhat relate, having recently been made to go "on call" at work but where we're not really "on call" but expected to actively monitor 40 sites for a week, with a 4 week rotation among employees (and compensation for this new duty.. what's that? Only happens if we actually engage an issue, we're not paid for just the monitoring) I love how an employer can just change the terms of your employment, but it's not like I can walk in and declare I'm now going to make $8,000 more a year. BTW, we have a union, they don't do squat.. they just hit you for dues.
    OTOH, this will ultimately put French businesses at a serious disadvantage in competing with other countrys' businesses, as their response time to an issue may be greatly reduced.
    Rather than outright ban it, maybe just some solid restrictions on say, 11pm to 6am as off limits.. or alternating weeks or something ...and provide overtime pay, definitely.
    • The only reason they get away with such abuse is because you let them. Of course I don't mean you specifically, but people in your position.

      And if your union doesn't pull its weight, find another one that does. Failing that, resign and get a more fulfilling job!
      • And if your union doesn't pull its weight, find another one that does. Failing that, resign and get a more fulfilling job!

        yup, its just that easy. there are so many jobs out there, so many employers who will treat you well. yeah, uhuh. right. the job market is looking for people to hire since there are simply not enough workers, anywhere!


  • by Orphis ( 1356561 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @10:27AM (#46713905)

    It isn't forbidden to read emails, it is forbidden for employers to require the employees to read them or be reachable through their personal or company phone.
    Employees must be allowed to have a 11h "blackout" between two consecutive working days and 35h during weekends.
    If an employee wants to read emails and do extra work, it's up to him, but it can't be imposed.

    And this is an agreement just for some business types (mainly IT related), not everyone.

  • Boomerang (Score:4, Informative)

    by barlevg ( 2111272 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @10:27AM (#46713913)
    My boss has started using this [boomeranggmail.com], because he knows that if I see an email come in at 10pm, I will open it on my phone, read it, and then promptly forget about it before I get to work the next morning.
  • by RevWaldo ( 1186281 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @10:32AM (#46713973)
    A fine? And if the business is willing to pay it as the cost of doing business?

  • Would anyone who reads French be able to give a less jovial and more accurate interpretation of what the French article says?

    Call me cynical, but I have a hunch we may not be getting the full story from the Guardian's "article."


    New French Law Prohibits After-Hours Work Emails

    It's not a law.

    • by CQDX ( 2720013 )
      It's 4:30 over there. Quit'n time. You'll have to wait until 9am tomorrow before anyone over there is allowed to answer.
  • by taikedz ( 2782065 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @10:34AM (#46713993) Homepage Journal

    Reading the original article on Les Echos.fr [lesechos.fr], it seems to me this is not law but an agreement between a coalition of enterprise owners and the unions - they've signed an agreement to implement this.

    La semaine dernière, après six mois de négociation, le patronat des sociétés d’ingénierie et de conseil et des bureaux d’études (Syntec et Cinov) a signé avec la CFDT et la CGC (56% de leurs salariés à elles deux) un avenant à l’accord de 1999 sur les 35 heures qui pourrait avoir valeur d’exemple.

    "Last week, after six months of negotiation, [ a union of ] bosses of engineering, consulting and design departments (Syntec and Cinov) signed with CFDT and CGC [workers' unions] (56% of their joint workforce) an ammendment to the 1999 agreement on the right to 35 hour working week which could set an example [to the rest of the country?]."

    A third union that didn't sign, the CGT, is actually deploring the fact that it still has a loophole allowing it to be ignored, and a previous agreement between the two camps to try and improve working conditions was struck down by a court of law:

    Cela suffira-t-il à convaincre les juges? L’avenant est un nouvel épisode du feuilleton juridique, que les signataires espèrent être le dernier dans leur profession. En avril 2013, la Cour de cassation avait invalidé le précédent dispositif, jugeant le contrôle de l’amplitude et de la charge de travail insuffisant.

    Will it be enough to convince the judges? The amendment is a new episode in this jurisdiction saga, which the signatories hope to be the last in their profession. In April 2013, a high court rejected their last attempt, judging that the control of the amplitude and amount of work insufficient.

    French journalistic style is not as easy to decipher as English-language journalism -- the French style is very fond of appearing as literary as possible. I'll post extra translations at some point if anybody wants.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As a French, I will add a few things :
      - this agreement isn't for all french worker, but only for specific workers under a specific labor agreement (mainly for people working in IT as contractor)
      - these specific workers work on a fixed number of days per year
      - when working on a fixed number of days per year, you have to do at least 8 hour per day of work, but it can be extended without being paid or considered as OT
      - this "agreement" can be read/understood as : "great, we can now have our employes for 13 hou

    • Thanks a lot taikedz for this sharp reading of the original article.

      It's not at all "after hour" but only to preserve (remind of) the legal 11h break between workdays that is already in the law to avoid harming the employees health. The new catch is that it's an obligation for the employer to put some measures in place and define these hours. And you are right, it's not a law but the result of a negotiation (and not a violent one) between employees/employers unions

      It leaves 13h a day 5 1/2 days a week
  • I wouldn't like this (Score:4, Interesting)

    by swillden ( 191260 ) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Thursday April 10, 2014 @10:35AM (#46714011) Homepage Journal

    Many people seem to enjoy strict segregation of work and personal life. I don't. I like flexibility; I like being able to leave work for a few hours in the middle of the day to go to a kids' school play, or go for a bike ride, or go skiing (next winter I'll be working from home full-time, 20 minutes from a ski resort; I'm seriously planning to be skiing from 9-11 AM almost daily) or whatever. I like being able to, with a totally clear conscience, spend an hour reading and posting on slashdot or G+ or whatever. I also like being able to work in the evening when inspiration strikes, or to make up for time spent away from work during the day, or for whatever reason. Heck, maybe I just want to and for whatever reason don't have anything better to do just then.

    I don't live to work, but I like my work, and I don't like drawing a sharp line separating work and non-work. I think that sort of separation is a recent invention anyway; historically work has been a part of life rather than walled off into a particular portion of each day. Of course, I have no objection to people who prefer to manage their work/life balance by sharply separating them. If that what works for them, more power to them. It's not my preference, though, and it's not the only way to balance the two. It's not something that should be legislated.

  • If whatever work French employers want done can be done in English and online, I am right here ready to do it! I've been unemployed for a while now and would rather be working.
  • Back in a world with logic, just tell people not to check their e-mail after hours. It's actually a lot simpler to not do something than it is to do something.
    • Re:morons (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @11:14AM (#46714537) Homepage

      Until your boss starts howling that he sent you an email at 8pm and you didn't reply to it until morning.

      Increasingly, companies are expecting you to put in your day, and then still work all of the rest of the day.

      My wife's company just keeps scheduling after hours work, piling on the day to day work, and expecting that people will magically do their full work week and cover all of the after-hours work.

      At a certain point, companies need to understand they don't own the right to all of your time in a week, and there is a point in the day where you say "and, I'm finished for today".

      But companies want to run their employees like rented mules.

  • Keep dreaming (Score:5, Informative)

    by Noryungi ( 70322 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @10:37AM (#46714037) Homepage Journal

    One point that is not in the original Guardian article is that this is a proposal only, and a proposal that only applies to French companies that are part of the "Syntec" work agreement.

    - Huh?

    Yes, in France, companies can adhere to negociated work agreements (named "accord") that define more precisely than the French laws what is possible and is not possible. Syntec is one such agreement, and it pretty much covers the vast majority of IT firms.

    Now... What you, gentle reader, need to know, is that that the Syntec agreement is not really that nice to IT employees, as it also defines a lot of things (unpaid overtime, etc.) that are not in the interests of the workers, to say the least. And many IT firms choose not to belong to Syntec, but instead to one of the "accords" that are even more constraining. The company I work with (''it-whose-name-shall-not-ever-be-said-aloud'') belongs to an "accord" that is used to define rules... for the steel industry.

    And before anyone starts foaming at the mouth about how French workers are lazy and only work 35h per week: I don't know ANYONE, and I mean ANYONE in France who works 35 hours per week, except maybe a few government employees and McDonald's workers. Yes, I know a lot of people in France who work much longer than that and, yes, I am one of them. Just so you know.

    • One point that is not in the original Guardian article is that this is a proposal only, and a proposal that only applies to French companies that are part of the "Syntec" work agreement.

      And it only applies to 200 000 workers whose worktime is not counted not in hours but in days (forfait jour), not one million..

      That means they can work much more that 35 hours / week.

      The limit being the labour law, ie: you must have rest period of at least 11 consecutive hours between each day of work and 35 consecutive hours each week. (so they can theorically work up to 88 hours in a week)
      The modification to the agreement implies that during these mandatory rest periods the worker has to disconnect from

  • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @10:54AM (#46714285)

    ...It is only natural that they abolish the after-work email.

  • It depends on the salary, pay and the level of the employees. If we force lowly paid workers to answer email during off hours, certainly they should be compensated for it. But, on the other hand, there are software professionals making 2 times median wages or more. People who are paid salary compared to that of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, (I remember Greenspan was drawing a salary of 140K per year in Washington DC. Not sure what it is now), they can answer email, log in via vpn and do more work.
  • New French Law Prohibits After-Hours Work Emails.

    New French Law Prohibits After-Hours Work.

    New French Law Prohibits Work Emails.

    New French Law Prohibits Work.

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @11:32AM (#46714759)

    Its called courrier electronique.

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @12:05PM (#46715159)

    I work for a European company in the US. Our work rules are very different because we're a multinational and HR is handled on a regional basis. Every single one of my colleagues complains about the French 35 hour week and their unwillingness to put in crazy hours like Americans do. I happen to agree with the French on this one, and this comes from a lot of experience working in several different work environments.

    US workers love to point to the "lazy socialist French" and make fun of their long vacations and very relaxed work style. And at the same time, they don't realize that they live longer, have better family lives, and are generally better adjusted than most stressed out Americans. Unemployment is higher than it is here, but their society isn't structured around crushing anyone who doesn't have a job. As an example, look at how much people complained about continuing the meager unemployment benefits for long-term unemployed people in the US. People were complaining about giving someone who has no hope of getting another job ever a couple hundred dollars a week to survive on. Long term unemployed this time around aren't lazy -- this time, all the old school manufacturing jobs are being thrown out of the economy, leaving people with average or below average intelligence with no hope of anything beyond fast food employment. But that's another worry for another time.

    Back to work hours and work/life balance -- I am incredibly lucky in that I have a job in IT with lots of flexibility. Lots of my peers don't. Employers are constantly trying to squeeze every last minute of work out of their existing resources rather than adding more. Mine is too, but less so...I've been trying to get us another head for quite some time now and it's very hard. I have no problem with having a healthy work ethic, and people do need to be motivated. I do have a problem when I see employers taking advantage of people who don't realize they're being taken advantage of. Especially in IT, I have witnessed a lot of "hero culture" employers who demand that employees be available 24/7 even when it's not really necessary. Millennials are especially susceptible to this because they're used to being tethered to social media all day long. I think this is one of the reasons companies prefer younger workers -- fewer non-work demands on their time and a willingness to work crazy hours simply because they haven't figured out that their employer won't extend them the same loyalty down the road. In my opinion, your average employee is deluding him or herself into thinking that their job is super-important, that everyone else is lazy, and that their employer values them immensely. Evidence shows that this is no longer the case. It may have been in the 50s/60s "job for life" era, but unfortunately that's gone for the most part.

    I'm also a new parent, and if you don't have experience, it's very hard to explain the drain on your free time that this places on you if you're doing it right and paying attention to your family. I see stressed out parents working for employers who don't give a damn responding to work emails at 2 in the morning simply because their employer expects that of them. I'll _glance_ at my messages once or twice in the evening, but I don't feel pressure to jump in and fix something right away -- unless something's literally on fire, it can wait. My opinion is this -- if something is really critical enough to require 24/7 coverage, then staff it that way. If you aren't willing to do that, then it's not critical. If the US were to adopt a "no after hours contact" rule or 35-hour week, it would reduce unemployment simply because companies would have to hire more resources. Either that, or a whole lot of "priority 1 mission critical" stuff would suddenly become less so.

  • by obarthelemy ( 160321 ) on Thursday April 10, 2014 @06:18PM (#46719635)

    I'm French, and I briefly worked for a Dutch firm. I was amazed at lunch in the break room: by the time I had finished my quick lunch (under an hour !) at least 3 Dutch colleagues had come and gone next to me.
    Then again, they leave work much earlier than we do.

Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will be dear to you. -- Thomas Jefferson