France 2017
France’s Ridiculous Email Law

France has a history of doing its very best to keep companies from wanting to locate operations in the country. Now, in a bill that actually loosens some restrictions on employers, the country has still managed to take things up a notch. USA Today reports:

A new law that came into effect with the new year says that companies with more than 50 employees must give workers the “right to disconnect” from email, smartphones and other devices during negotiated hours.

“These measures are designed to ensure respect for rest periods and … balance between work and family and personal life,” a spokesperson from France’s ministry of labor said in a statement.

The regulations, though, contain several items that are designed to sharpen France’s workforce, which has been criticized as over-regulated and rigid in the face of globalization. Other measures include more flexibility on work rules and overtime as well as granting employers more power to hire and fire.

But they are also acknowledgement that recent technology has dealt a tremendous blow to the French way of life, which emphasizes enjoying time off and regulations that encourage a 35-hour workweek.

“All the studies show there is far more work-related stress today than there used to be, and that the stress is constant,” Benoit Hamon of the French National Assembly told the BBC when the law was being mulled last year. “Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash — like a dog. The texts, the messages, the emails — they colonize the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”

The stress of emails is undeniable, but it’s difficult to imagine why, say, an investment bank or law firm would want to be located in a country where it couldn’t expect its employees to respond to urgent client emails after hours. Surely there are better solutions out there.

In the French presidential election, there’s been a lot of talk about front-runner François Fillon’s Thatcherism. This new law, which admittedly seems to have included the email provision in order to help the populace swallow difficult reforms, suggests that maybe the country isn’t, after all, very keen on Iron Lady-style economic liberalization. How much Fillon focuses on his business agenda and the reaction it receives at the polls are stories to watch over the next few months—particularly with Marine Le Pen looking for any and all weak spots in Fillon’s platform.

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