France is known as the birthplace of liberté, égalité, fraternité, but apparently the strike-prone country isn't done gifting the world with new rights and freedoms. The country's government just enshrined "the right to disconnect" into law.

According to Article 25 of France's new (and apparently much contested) El Khomri law, which governs labor rights and conditions, "the development of information and communication technologies, if badly managed or regulated, can have an impact on the health of workers. Among them, the burden of work and the informational overburden, the blurring of the borders between private life and professional life, are risks associated with the usage of digital technology," reports Lauren Collins for The New Yorker.

Because of this, going forward employers will be required to set formal procedure to keep work from encroaching on employee's personal time, such as Volkswagen's policy of shutting down its email servers after hours or Daimler's rule that employees are free to delete all the messages they receive while on vacation.

Could the 'right to disconnect' ever come to America?

But that's just those wacky French, my American readers might reply. They're famed for their dedication to life's pleasures (and, if truth be told, their avoidance of hard work). Mais non, replies Collins, who points out that American stereotypes of the French miss a few essential truths about the country.

First off, the French aren't actually lazy. "The country's hourly productivity, for example, rivals that of the United States, and French workers put in more hours a year than their supposedly more industrious German counterparts," she points out. What does set the French apart from the average American worker, she goes on to say, isn't their attitude towards work, but their attitude towards leisure.

"In France, a personal life is not a passive entity, the leftover bits of one's existence that haven't been gobbled up by the office, but a separate entity, the sovereignty of which is worth defending, even if that means that someone's spreadsheet doesn't get finished on time," she insists.

Or to put it another way, in France no one would click on articles that argue you should plan your weekend a certain way because it will better refresh you for the work week ahead. Leisure (aka a personal and civic life) is an end unto itself, not just a means to "recharge" or improve your professional performance.

Aside from the sad reality that getting any laws at all passed in this country seems like a challenge these days, this difference suggests that a 'right to disconnect' would have a hard time taking off here. Despite all our complaining about the near impossibility of maintaining work-life balance in our tech-saturated age, I suspect that we're simply too work obsessed (or at least we are in the professional corners that are most impacted by after hours communication) to demand this kind of protection.

If it were possible to get such a law passed here, do you think it would be a good idea?

Published on: May 31, 2016