What if the next time your boss emailed you at home on a Saturday night, you could just ignore him with no fear of retribution? That’s the new reality for about 1 million workers in France – and it’s not just any workers. It’s employees in technology and consulting, two industries known for a reliance on off-hours work and an addiction to checking email, smartphones and laptops to stay on top of work around the clock. The law covers workers at large international companies, including American technology and consulting companies like Facebook (FB), Google (GOOGL) and PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
As of last week, those 1 million workers now have the law on their side if they choose to say: I’ll deal with that Monday. Employer groups and unions last week signed a new, legally-binding labor agreement that will require staff to turn off their phones after 6pm. The new law is a response to French labor union complaints about employers increasingly extending the work week beyond the 35-hour week mandated by a 1999 French law. As almost any American worker knows, the increasingly powerful and ubiquitous smartphone is making employer-employee contact easier by the day and blurring the line between being on the clock and being off it.
France, of course, is notorious for favoring life when it comes to the work-life balance. France was the first country to adopt a 35-hour work-week, shortening its already short 39-hour work week. Proponents of the abbreviated hours point to the fact that France’s productivity is on par with other European Union countries.
Yahoo Finance Senior Columnist Michael Santoli said this epitomizes the French philosophy on work and life. “In France, what they do very well is institutionalize limits on commerce and limits on exactly how much life should be about work instead of the other way around,” he said. “It really just accentuates these trade-offs that the French, in general, have decided to make between lower economic growth and on the whole, perhaps, lower levels of individual advancement financially in order to preserve a certain concept of a lifestyle.”
Where things get really interesting is when employees of American companies operating in France will be legally-required to turn off their smartphones and tell their bosses in California or New York: I’m off the clock. Catch you later.
Retailers lose bid to stay open late
Meanwhile, in a separate ruling, retailers failed in a bid to keep some stores in France open until midnight. The French Constitutional Court Friday rejected an appeal by Sephora to keep its flagship store on Paris’s Champs-Elysees open past 9pm. Under current regulations, French stores can only stay open past 9pm under exceptional circumstances, not on a regular basis.
Sephora claimed the law “flouted the freedom of enterprise.” The French court said the law strikes the proper balance between freedom for businesses and protecting the health and well being of employees. French labor unions cheered the court’s decision, calling it a big leap forward. Meanwhile, the head of the bosses’ union said the ruling was absurd and an example of the labor laws that are hampering economic growth in France.
“Probably the biggest loser in all this is those big international chains that want to let the tourists in Paris shop ‘til midnight,” said Santoli.
Poll: Would you support an agreement that prevents your office from contacting you when you’re not at work? Cast your vote and post your comments as well.