It is hard to imagine working without email in today’s digital world. The ability to communicate documents in an instant via the internet has brought efficiencies that could only be dreamed of in the days of letter writing and postal mail.
Unfortunately the features that make email so useful have also become the source of significant problems. The ease of emailing has brought its own set of inefficiencies as inboxes become swamped with a mixture of urgent tasks, unwanted spam and everything in between.
Meanwhile, other technologies such as smartphones have meant that there is little escape, often upending the work-life balance. Relaxing at home after work or on a beach holiday no longer guarantees peace from demanding bosses or customers, an encroachment some consider too much.
The French Approach to Working Time
That familiar beep from a smartphone signalling a new entry in your inbox is one that workers everywhere have to contend with on a daily basis. However, in April 2014 certain elements of French society apparently decided that enough was enough.
In the birthplace of the 35-hour working week, reports began circulating that unions and employers federations had brought in new rules to try and give employees in certain sectors a break from their emails outside the hours of 9am to 6pm. France supposedly introduced the new rules after it was agreed that “digital working time” should be limited.
According to reports, the rules stipulated that employees must switch off work phones and avoid work emails outside work hours. Meanwhile bosses would not be able to put staff under pressure to check messages outside of those times.
As it turned out, the reports of a French email ban after 6pm were something of an overstatement but the fact that the rumour still perpetuates shows it struck a nerve.
The British Approach to Working Time
Although many British and other nationalities admire the French approach to life, the news of a post 6pm email ban received a fairly sceptical response in the British media when it was first aired. Many people declared such a law unworkable and impossible to enforce. Others just saw it as an impediment to their normal working habits. There were those who lined up in support of the idea too though.
Despite the scepticism, even here in the UK workers are well protected in many ways by employment legislation. Adults cannot be forced to work more than 48 hours in a week under the working time directive but access to work email is not covered. Although there are numerous exceptions to the working time rules and many workers opt out of them, other requirements of the working time directive cannot be opted out of.
After several years of struggling with a tough economy, it is unlikely that a British government of any colour would seek to impose this kind of restriction on the workforce. That aside, periodic changes are made to employment legislation and employers should ensure that they stay up to date with the new rules.
If you would like more information regarding the effect of technology on the employment relationship or about changes to employment legislation, Rollingsons has experienced lawyers who can advise you. Please contact Aneil Balgobin via e-mail ABalgobin@rollingsons.co.uk or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.