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French employers agree to ban company email after work hours

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Flickr / Zoutedrop

Four French trade unions and employers' federations have reached a truce over a much-discussed issue in the modern workplace: the slow creep of email and other online distractions outside traditional work hours. French newspaper Les Echos reports that after months of negotiations, the groups signed a legally binding agreement that among other things would require workers to disconnect digitally from work during the rest periods already mandated by law. That means that for 11 consecutive hours each day and a minimum of 35 consecutive hours a week, they won't be checking company email or working on projects remotely. These requirements can be waived under exceptional circumstances, but employers will have to explicitly display the policy, making sure workers aren't pressured to disobey it.

The Guardian reports that this will affect a million employees in the tech and consulting fields, including Google and Facebook workers. French labor laws, which are unusually protective of employees' free hours, have caused tension with multinational companies. In early 2013, Apple was ordered to stop making workers stay until 11pm to close up its stores, a rule that was recently also upheld for cosmetics company Sephora. Overtime pay must kick in at 35 hours and rest days are required, although the French "35-hour work week" often stretches longer than that. Outside France, Volkswagen made the news in 2011 for actively disabling work email after an employee's shift ended, but for many white-collar workers, periodically checking messages is a standard aspect of the job, despite widespread complaints about the practice.