France passed a new labor law over the weekend that gives employees the “right to disconnect” from their work email and devices such as smartphones and laptops after business hours. According to CNN, the policy was informed by French unions, who have long complained that modern technology has led to an “explosion of undeclared labor” that exceeds the country’s 35-hour work week.
The new law seeks to benefit working mothers and fathers, and others who find their home life interrupted by out-of-office requests. Many of these workers, however, probably aren’t aware of the subtle attacks on freedom a government-mandated work-life balance presents.
Like the minimum wage, the “right to disconnect” policy sounds like a pretty good, and even compassionate, idea at first. Many people desire a clearer separation between work and home, and a rule like this can help to create that.
But what about the 23-year-old bachelor seeking to climb the corporate ladder? For him, uncompensated overtime hours might seem like less of a burden and more of an opportunity to jumpstart his career before other obligations like marriage and family take shape in his life. In this case, the “right to disconnect” policy is likely to provoke hostility toward employees who willingly choose to work beyond the time specified by a particular company.
According to the new rule, companies with 50 or more employees must negotiate after-hours email guidelines with their staff. Further, firms are required to “regulate the use of emails” to ensure employees are getting their promised break.
“If management and staff cannot agree on new rules,” CNN reported, “the firm must publish a charter to define and regulate when employees should be able to switch off.”
Under this provision, individuals like the 23-year-old bachelor could be flagged for violating company policy. In order to comply with the new restrictions, he would have to forego his comparative advantage (i.e. more free time and less out-of-office obligations), and the company would cease to benefit from his (completely voluntary) additional labor.
Policies affecting the private lives of employees should be settled through private contracts between individuals and their employers. The issue of out-of-office email should be addressed in the same way companies determine salary negotiation and paid time off. This way, the 23-year-old bachelor receives the same level of consideration as the working mother of three. His willingness to work overtime may provide him with an advantage when it comes to asking for time off. On the other hand, the working mother may value free time with family in the evening more than a few more vacation days. In both cases, employees are afforded the freedom to negotiate a policy that works for them. (For more from the author of “How France’s ‘Right to Disconnect’ Law Is an Assault on Freedom” please click HERE)