The Right to Disconnect

By James McAuley

USA problem is the 60 hour week!

Liberty, equality, fraternity — and now, the “right to disconnect.”

Among a host of new reforms designed to loosen the more stringent regulations in the country’s labor market, France’s labor minister, Myriam El Khomri, is including a provision that would give employees the right to ignore professional emails and other messages when outside the office. It would essentially codify a division between work and home and, on a deeper level, between public and private life.

El Khomri apparently fleeced this idea from a report by Bruno Mettling, a director general in charge of human resources at Orange, the telecommunications giant. Mettling believes this policy would benefit employers as much as their employees, whom, he has said, are likely to suffer “psychosocial risks” from a ceaseless communication cycle. As reported in Le Monde, a recent study found than approximately 3.2 million French workers are at risk of “burning out,” defined as a combination of physical exhaustion and emotional anxiety. Although France is already famous for its 35-hour workweek, many firms skirt the rules — often through employees who continue working remotely long after they leave for the day.

With France’s economy stagnant and an unemployment rate of 10.6 percent, a near record high, the value of the 35-hour workweek, in place since the 1990s, has elicited a considerable amount of debate in recent months. Arecent proposal, for instance, would give companies the right to renegotiate longer hours and to pay less in overtime to employees who stay longer. The “right to disconnect” is ultimately a means of enshrining labor protections in a changed working environment, in which technology — especially smartphones and other personal devices — have become indispensable.

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