The Need to Disconnect Bill Passed by French Unions


If you’ve used the Internet in the past week, you’ve likely seen stories about the “need to disconnect” bill recently passed by French unions. Apparently, this story hit hard with some email-weary workers around the world, with many scoffing in indignation — citing France’s 35-hour work week and penchant for taking extended summer holidays. Many missed the point – including major media outlets — in mistaking the right to disconnect as a requirement to disconnect.

The law in question will actually only affect 200,000-250,000 tech workers to whom the typical 35-hour workweek does not apply. A recent piece in The Economist sets the record straight. While the new rule does state an “obligation to disconnect communications tools”, this only applies if the worker has worked a 13-hour day. The primary purpose of the bill is to allow technology professionals to not check email during their legally allotted rest period without fear of retribution.

The statement that many journalists took out of context (and then ran with) was when one of the union heads, Michel de la Force, was quoted as saying employers can best honor the agreement by shutting off access to work emails after 6p.m. (France’s Volkswagen research unit already does this) and employers can also ask workers to leave their work phones and computers at the office. So, it was a suggestion, not a mandate on the part of the French government. And, while France’s labor laws are famously strict, they are not as draconian as stories like this would suggest.

What is the cultural norm for checking work emails after typical work hours at your company? How much does that have to do with what we might call “national culture” of the country in which you work (or the country culture of headquarters)? Does management expect you to always be available, or do you disconnect at some point? Let us know in the comments section below.