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The ‘Right to Disconnect from Technology’ – The Law that Allows You to Switch Off From Work When at Home

By: , Posted on: March 10, 2017

Source: Flickr

As of January it is French law that employees have the ‘right to disconnect from technology.’ This includes all newly relaunched phones – Nokia 3310 and the soon to be launched BlackBerry KeyOne – even if they don’t have Wi-Fi. This new law gives French workers, in organisations of 50+ employees, the right to shut-off their phones, smart phones, smart watches, iPads, tablets, laptops or any communications tech when they are out of the office.

Not sending emails outside of normal working hours has been introduced as the ‘right to disconnect from technology’ law in France and is intended to help workers disconnect and switch-off when they are at home. I was first made aware of this idea in 2016 when Hugh Schofield published the article ‘The plan to ban work emails out of hours’ for the BBC News Magazine [1] where it was mentioned that “…companies of more than 50 people will be obliged to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours – normally in the evening and at the weekend – when staff are not supposed to send or answer emails.” It would seem that in the European Union small companies, generally defined as having less than 50 employees, will be exempt from the right to disconnect. This would therefore seem to protect their creative business capabilities and agility. It also needs to be made clear that the right to disconnect does not just solely relate to the use of smartphones, as is widely reported, as it is the “right to disconnect from technology” which includes laptops, smart watches, tablets and any other device that can be used to access Wi-Fi.

So what should you consider in a charter of good conduct?

SET-OUT THE WORKING HOURS

I think it is pretty well-known that the working week in France extends to 35 hours and 7 hours per day. Assuming employees have a one hour lunchbreak this would mean the core office hours are 9 am to 5 pm. But this presents the first challenge, does the lunchbreak form part of the “right to disconnect from technology”? I would imagine it does not as the timing of lunchbreaks can be quite flexible. Once the core hours are clarified, the easiest way is to check employee contracted hours as hours will vary, it would also make sense to communicate this to staff based outside France and to customers. One very easy way to do this is to include the core hours in the employee’s electronic signature and a statement to say that emails will not be read or sent outside of the normal working day. This will not mean that fellow employees or customers will stop sending emails, however, and ‘email jams’ will no doubt occur and is still a potential trigger for employee stress. The company charter may also want to consider how to manage communications in “exceptional circumstances” as part of an ‘on-call’ employee roster.

SET-OUT THE NON-WORKING HOURS

So the core hours have been clarified, now the same needs to be done for the out of hours. This includes the after work hours (i.e., the other 17 hours in the day), weekends, public holidays and vacations. A serious thought needs to be given to how email traffic will be regulated. Can this be done by company servers? Indeed, the car manufacturer Volkswagen uses company servers to stop emails being sent and received from company-owned smartphones between 6.15 pm and 7.00 am Sunday through Saturday. [2] Although this policy applies only to full-time employees in Germany with union-negotiated contracts and excludes senior management. No doubt the same policy could be extended to all employees and to all technology devices.

There is also the question of how to manage emails whilst an employee is on vacation. The simplest approach is to set-up an automated out of office reply, but some employers, such as Germany’s Daimler, allow employees to have their emails deleted whilst on vacation. [2]

CONSIDER DEFINING SIMPLE GUIDANCE TO ACCOMPANY ANY EMAIL POLICY

Any company charter should also consider the rules of email. Reference [3] defines 10 simple steps to help manage emails if you are based in France or not.

CLOSING REMARKS

The advent of the ‘right to disconnect from technology’ in France raises important issues regarding the management of email in the workplace and a new way of helping enforce the importance of a healthy work-life balance. However, working in a digitally driven environment presents some interesting challenges as we spend more time online and invest more of our hard earned money into new technology and digital updates. In all seriousness, managing email can be extremely stressful which has been related directly to email (such as the build-up of email) or indirectly to email (not being able to switch-off or being interrupted throughout the working day). What can be taken away from this is that you can switch off your email whether you are at work or at home. So why not put your device down and take a break.

About the Author

chris wrightDr. Christopher Wright is the founder of Red Pharm communications. He graduated from the University of Leeds with a PhD in applied cardiovascular physiology. His thesis focused on models of syncope and the control of blood pressure and heart rate. Email: RedPharm@outlook.com

References
[1] Schofield H. The plan to ban work emails out of hours, published on 11th May 2016 by BBC News Magazine. Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-36249647).
[2] Anderson J. How to enjoy France’s right-to-disconnect law without living in France. Published on 3rd January 2017 by QUARTZ. Source: http://qz.com/876892/france-passed-a-law-banning-work-emails-after-work-but-you-can-do-it-yourself/
[3] Wright CI. (2015). Electronic mail – ten simple steps to help improve personal performance and productivity in the workplace. Journal of Global Economics, Management and Business Research 6 (1): 2454-2504.

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