It’s now illegal to check your work email after 6 p.m. in France, as FastCompany reports via The Guardian. I’d say I know next to nothing about legal norms and processes in France since the Revolution, but I’m expecting I’ll see two very different opinions circling about this news.
One group will point out how ridiculous, even invasive it is to have the government regulating when you can and can’t do work. They’ll point to this as Big Brother-style governance and question what a state could do if it asserts power over an individual to such a discrete degree. I think those are all valid concerns; I mean, it is a weird-ass law.
The other group, however, will point to this as yet another example of how much it sucks to be a worker in the United States compared to most other developed nations. We guarantee far fewer rights to time off, parental leave, healthcare, and other benefits that are just considered basic decency in other comparable cultures. Those are also all valid concerns to me.
It seems highly unlikely to me that anyone in the French government would levy a fine against an employee for violating work-email curfew, however. If anything, it sounds like a way to guarantee employees the right to separation between work and personal life if they’re ever challenged by an employer for not meeting implicit expectations. In my own experience with the tech world, there’s often a tacit (if not outright spoken) agreement that no job can be done in just 40 hours per week. If you’re not responding to emails in the evenings and early mornings, you’re not “plugged in” enough to your role. You’re letting your peers down.
Meanwhile, countries like France and Germany mandate a 35-hour work week.
I’m not in favor of government telling people they can’t work. I like that, historically, the United States has avoided imposing limitations on how a person spends their time and money. But there’s no question in my mind that, as the wealth gap continues to grow and the middle class has dwindled consistently throughout my lifetime, things are getting worse for the average worker in the U.S. Even if we laugh at or decry a law like the one in question, we ought to consider if we’re vouching for our own well-being and rights or simply echoing what the wealthy elite have been trumpeting as “the American Dream” for so long. Put in more blunt terms, what’s the point of participating in jingoism if you’re being manipulated into getting the short end of the deal?
Instead of focusing on how and why these practices became law in other countries, I want to see more of a conversation domestically about why we don’t offer paid vacation time, paid maternity or paternity leave or even more flexible amounts of unpaid maternity leave (here’s a good comparison).
But until those conversations start happening, there’s something you can do for yourself: turn your phone off anyway. Don’t sacrifice your personal life for fear of your job performance. If there’s no explicit requirement in your job description to be on-call, challenge any implication from management or peers that says otherwise.