French employees celebrated the New Year with a new law that offers French workers the “right to disconnect” from their email. Employers with more than 50 people will be required to define the rights of employees to ignore their digital devices at the end of the normal working day and on weekends. The aim of the new French law is to tackle the culture of expectation that employees are always available, and the effects on family life and health such expectations are proving to have. For example, a study out of the University of British Columbia, Canada, found that participants who were assigned to check their email only three times a day were less stressed than those who could check their emails continuously.
No such requirement exists in most countries, including Great Britain and the United States. Most employees’ contracts will contain provisions which set out defined working hours but also require employees “to work such additional hours as are necessary for their proper performance of their duties” or similar wording, and commonly this is without any additional remuneration. This understanding is also typically true in employment-at-will work arrangements.
While in most countries it is legal to ask employees to work outside of normal contracted hours and most employees will do so sensibly and without complaint, note that despite the absence of a law like the French one most countries have legal restrictions to which employers need to adhere for all workers.
For instance, in Great Britain laws prescribe a 48-hour average work week, completed rest breaks, “on-call” time regulations, and record-keeping of time worked. All of these requirements can be difficult to track in mobile or remote access situations. In the increasingly digital world it is important not to lose sight of legislation designed to protect employees’ health and safety.
As technology encroaches more and more on daily life, delineating the boundaries between work and home becomes increasingly difficult, but is something employers should not ignore when developing and enforcing legally-compliant employee policies and procedures.