It has been reported in the UK press that union lobbying in France has resulted in certain employees in the digital and consultancy sector being required to switch off their work phones and to avoid looking at work emails outside normal office hours, which are taken to be before 9am and after 6pm.

As this sounded a little irréaliste, shall we say, I checked the view of Jean-Marc Sainsard, our Employment Partner in our Paris office, and he confirmed that the UK press article had exaggerated matters somewhat.   There has been an addendum to one collective bargaining agreement to that effect which has not been signed into by a number of the employers’ federations which are party to that agreement.  It covers only a limited population of employees, a very far cry from Press suggestions.

More detail on the real changes in France will come soon, but the very question of banning access out-of-hours email is an interesting one.

Certainly in the UK, we have become very accustomed to being expected to be available at all times. Whilst 24/7 accessibility used to be a ‘value added’ for key client pitches, it has now become the norm for most City professionals.  There is little more irritating when you are trying to close a deal or deliver some documents, etc. than to get to something past 6 and find that the other side has just home and cannot be reached.  All the same, part of you still envies that degree of self-discipline and the almost certain knowledge that their work: life balance is vastly healthier than your own.

But would the requirement to switch off at 6pm actually help create a better work/life balance for UK employees?

For a start, this may generate greater pressure on employees to achieve the same amount of work in a strict 9 to 6 day. Is it actually better for employees to be told that they cannot work after 6pm, if this means they end up working through lunch every day to get their work finished?

Such a change could also have a disproportionate impact on working parents with childcare responsibilities. Employees who have to leave at 5pm on the dot to collect children from nursery may often finish off emails and other work matters later on that evening, perhaps when their children are in bed. In that case, to be prevented from working in the evening is to deny a great deal of flexibility that current technology has provided, and could put working parents at a disadvantage.

So even if it is right that some employees in France are required to switch off at 6pm, we can’t see that happening any time soon in the UK.  Any such move here would be bound to go the same way as the hours and rest-break provisions of the Working Time Regulations – unimpeachable in their intentions, interesting in abstract and substantially ignored in practice.

If you would like more information on the French developments in this area, please contact Jean-Marc Sainsard.