Should UK employers follow France’s lead in switching off out of hours?

French employees now have a legal “right to disconnect from the use of digital tools” and ignore out of hours emails.

From 1 January 2017, a new law came into effect in which requires French companies with more than 50 workers to include discussion of the right of employees to disconnect and ignore their smartphones and emails outside working hours, in mandatory annual negotiations with trade unions.

Since 2002, France has had a standard working week of 35 hours. The new law is intended to combat the growing tendency for employees to be “always on” and checking work-related emails and messages out of work hours. This tendency can make employees more likely to experience burnout, sleep deprivation, work related stress and associated relationship problems.

The change is not intended to prevent employees using their digital devices out of working hours or to lose the flexibility that these devices give them. The aim is to achieve a culture shift where employees no longer feel that they have to be “always on”. Ultimately, however, it will still be a matter of personal choice as to whether employees actually do disconnect.

Despite this French move towards the right to disconnect, it is debatable whether this fits with modern working practices and the manner in which employees chose to flexibly organise their day.

There are, however, other measures that UK companies could use to ensure the health and safety of their employees. These could include proactively managing expectations regarding out of hours working and communicating these expectations, encouraging employees not to respond to emails or messages out of working hours, and encouraging the use of face to face meetings during working time.