Right to disconnect: work-life balance necessity or overregulation?

Right to disconnect: work-life balance necessity or overregulation?

It’s been almost a year since France adopted the El Khomri Law, named after the then Minister of Labour Myriam El Khomri. It’s also been half a year since part of it went into effect on January 1st, and established a new human right in France – the right to disconnect.

In simple terms, it requires businesses with more than 50 employees (which is about half of the French workforce) to establish policies that will diminish work-related use of technologies outside the office. It doesn’t necessarily mean that an employee has the automatic right to be unreachable as soon as their working hours are done, as some outlets reported.

The French government hopes for reducing stress from overworking, including preventing a burnout syndrome and gaining better differentiation between work and personal time in general since digital tools nowadays blur the line more than ever.

The idea for this piece of legislation comes from a French telecommunication company Orange who enacted similar policies exactly for the purpose of reinforcing the work-life balance.

However, the new law has met with some criticism. There are those who worry that France will get left behind by foreign businesses that are not hindered in this way. Others agree with the notion that work-life balance is an issue, but object against passing a regulation for it, believing that French government regulates work conditions too much too often and the right way is promoting a corporate culture and employee education. Let’s also not forget companies that operate in multiple time-zones or flexible work hours that smartphones and other devices enable.  

Additionally, many companies already experimented with some kind of related policy even before the law passed and continue to do so. These include Allianz France, Atos, KEDGE Business School or Orange in France and others in Europe such as Belgian Solvay, German BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen or London-based Reboot Online.

While the government tried to avoid “one size fits all” approach, the fact that there isn’t any punishment set for those employers that do not even make an attempt at such policies and no specific measures to implement, makes it even more curious.

The law itself might be used as a shield for a worker to protect himself from being fired when applicable, but when it comes to meaningful changes in corporations the right to disconnect is a only a gentle reminder and the burden of action, experimentation and implementation lies with the companies themselves and their CSR strategies.



El Khomri law

French employees can legally ignore work emails outside of office hours (The Washington Post)

France’s ‘right to disconnect’ is a nice idea, but it’s also pretty vague (The Verge)

France’s 'Right to Disconnect' Law Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be (Time)

New Law Could Let French Workers Ignore After-Hours Email (NBC News)

France ‘Right to Disconnect’ Law: Do We Need Rules To Reclaim Personal Time? (NBC News)

The New French “Right to Disconnect”— Can Legislation Alter Work-Life Balance? (Verdict)


Authors: Karel Dolecek, Tatiana Caplova / Pontis Foundation