French IT staff get right to unplug from work

April 10, 2014

French IT staff at Google, Facebook and other companies have won new protections against burnout: the right to unplug.

A new agreement with employers gives more than 300,000 tech-sector workers added guarantees that the "always connected" lifestyle enabled by smartphones won't infringe on their rights under France's famous 35-hour workweek.

Union official Michel de la Force told The Associated Press that the deal doesn't mean staff will be forced to turn off their phones at 6 p.m., as some media have reported. "They haven't read the agreement," De la Force said.

The deal gives workers at risk of burnout a right to disconnect, but does not change their working hours. The deal also only covers workers, such as consultants, who already have flexible schedules, not employees on fixed shifts.

The agreement between two French unions and two employers' federations for the technology and consulting industries came about after a court last year found previous working time protections in the sector to be insufficient.

De la Place, an official with the consulting and engineering branch of the CFE-CGC union, says the change is a matter of protecting ' health.

"If someone is in a dangerous situation of overwork, this allows them to say 'no'," De la Place said. But on a day-to-day basis, the changes little. "This doesn't forbid someone from taking a USB key from the office and working at home," he said.

Details on implementing the 35-hour week in France are left up to each sector or industry through negotiations between employees and employers.

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