The dream of the 1960s was that technological advances would lead to a shorter working week and a new age of leisure for all.
In fact, modern methods of communication have in fact lead to a situation where there is often an expectation that employees will constantly be on call.
Many employees feel under pressure to keep in touch with work even when they are supposed to be on holiday. Research has shown that young people in particular are prone to checking work emails during non-work time – with many admitting that they had done so over the Christmas holidays.
Now the BBC reports that with effect from 1st January 2017 French workers have a “right to disconnect”, meaning that the employer will be expected to agree a charter with employees as to when they are not required to deal with or send work-related emails.
France has a maximum 35 hour working week. In the UK, the maximum working week is 48 hours and even then employees have the right to waive this limitation.
Restrictions on working hours are regarded as a matter of EU law as being a health and safety issue and certainly a case can be made for there being a potentially detrimental effect on employee’s health and productivity when there is no clear dividing line between work time and the employee’s own time.
While there is no law equivalent to the French one in the UK, employers do need to remember that they can be liable for personal injury claims if employees suffer from work-related stress.
In addition if employees are expected to deal with emails outside of their normal hours then this may raise questions as to whether this counts as working time for the purposes of calculating their maximum working week (if they have not opted out), whether they are being paid the National Minimum Wage and whether they are being allowed to take their holiday entitlement – are you “on holiday” if you spend all day dealing with work emails?