The “right to disconnect” from digital devices was first introduced in 2014 by the Syntec collective labor applicable to IT companies for employees subject to a working time scheme counting their working time in days rather than in hours (so-called “forfait jour”) to ensure compliance with the employees' minimum daily and weekly rest periods. This obligation was generalized to all employees subject to such forfaits jours by French Law n°2016-1088 of 8 August 2016. Collective labor agreements implementing individual forfaits jours working time schemes must now provide for ways in which employees may exercise their right to disconnect; alternatively, such ways must be defined by the employer and communicated by any means to the employees concerned1 (e.g., in the contract amendment implementing the working time scheme, by way of a company policy).
Since January 1st 2017, the right to disconnect is also part of the yearly mandatory negotiations on gender equality at work and work life balance in companies of at least 50 employees. The negotiated company collective agreement must provide for means of regulating the use of digital devices (e.g., monitoring remote connections at night and during weekends). If no collective agreement is entered into, the employer must draw up a policy after having consulted the works council or personnel delegates. This policy would also include training and awareness-raising actions for a reasonable use of digital devices2.
What does the right to disconnect mean?
French law does not provide for a definition of the right to disconnect. This right will therefore need to be defined in the collective agreements that are negotiated with the union delegates; the ultimate aim is to ensure compliance with the employee’s rest time and vacation periods, as well as personal and family life. It will be possible and highly recommended to provide for exceptions to this right in cases of emergency or if the matter at stake so justifies it.
Which employees are concerned by this right?
All employees that are under a forfait jour work time scheme are concerned. The collective agreement or policy implemented by companies with 50 or more employees can also target all employees rather than those on a forfait jour or working from home. Some agreements have excluded top or managing executives that are already excluded from French working time rules from the scope of this right (as Airbus Helicopters).
How to disconnect?
Some companies (e.g., HCR) have decided to implement no-connection time “during rest periods” (in the evening and during the weekend), while others define it more strictly ("between 8 pm and 7 am on weekdays" at AON France). Some agreements provide that employees are not obliged to read and reply to emails and calls outside of their working hours (Michelin). In practice, it is possible to use delayed email-sending functions, or to specify in emails (in the signature block) that messages sent outside working hours do not require an immediate response. Without resorting to more excessive solutions adopted by certain German companies (such as blocking servers at night and on weekends or erasing emails received by employees on leave and rerouting them to others), common sense and good judgment should be exercised and employees taught to discipline themselves not to reply immediately to any email received during vacation or rest periods.
No express sanctions are provided for in the absence of a collective agreement or policy. Note though that forfait jour schemes could be invalidated if no rules on this right to disconnect have been defined and claims for payment of overtime filed by employees. In addition, employers could be held liable in the event of an employee’s burnout.