Email, banned after tea?

This today on the Beeb site. As far as allatsea is concerned, these rules can’t come soon enough. That said, living in the real world (he hopes), there’s not a chance in hell Surprised smile)


France has brought in rules to protect employees from work email disturbing them outside office hours. Would a law to this effect be feasible elsewhere?

In many jobs, work email doesn’t stop when the employee leaves the office. And now France has decided to act. It has introduced rules to protect about a million people working in the digital and consultancy sectors from work email outside office hours. Those are taken to be before 9am and after 6pm. The deal signed between employers federations and unions says that employees will have to switch off work phones and avoid looking at work email, while firms cannot pressure staff to check messages.

Michel de La Force, chairman of the General Confederation of Managers, has said that “digital working time” would have to be measured. Some emailing outside of office hours would be allowed but only in “exceptional circumstances”.

France has a 35-hour week, adopted in 1998. But the French are not alone in worrying about how portable devices have exposed employees to longer hours.

People shout slogans as they demonstrate for wages, employment, job security and against the proposed 'pact of responsibility' during a protest called by the CGT, FO, FSU and Solidarity unions, in the streets of Paris on March 18, 2014French workers protest in the streets of Paris in March 2014

In December 2011, Volkswagen announced that servers would stop sending emails 30 minutes after the end of employees’ shifts, and onlystart again half an hour before the person returned to work. Their move was followed by Germany’s labour ministry.

In the UK there is protection for many types of worker in the form of the Working Time Regulations, but the TUC argues this simply doesn’t cover out-of-hours email. And there are exemptions for categories of worker like lawyers and doctors.

UK working hours

Employers can’t force adults to work more than 48 hours a week – normally averaged over 17 weeks.

Exceptions apply:

  • Where the working time is not measured and the worker is in control – eg managing executives

  • In the armed forces, emergency services and police – in some circumstances

  • In security and surveillance

  • As a domestic servant in a private household

  • Where 24-hour staffing is required

  • Certain categories of seafarers, sea-fishermen and workers on vessels on inland waterways

Workers can opt out of the 48-hour week.

If an out-of-hours email ban was brought in, the situation could be similar and not everybody would be protected, says Andrew Lilley, an employment lawyer and managing partner at law firm Travers Smith. “I imagine many jobs would be exempt, a bit like some of the exemptions in the Working Time Regulations.”

Disruptive email is mainly a white-collar problem. It goes with the territory for certain jobs, such as lawyer or financier, where staff are managing their own time. But others further down the hierarchy working on fixed hours contracts are perhaps also in need of protection.

Enforcing an email ban would be almost impossible, argues Alief Rezza, an oil analyst in Stavanger, Norway. He checks email every half hour when he leaves work at 16:30 until 19:00. The stock market is still open and he might get an urgent message from colleagues in London. When he wakes he checks to see if colleagues in the US or Singapore have been in touch. “I don’t think a ban would work. If Norway bans my company from sending emails to me then my company needs to make sure someone is able to cover the request that should have been in my inbox.” The industry would find a way around it, he argues.

Phil Smith (Will Smith), Emma Messinger (Olivia Poulet), Peter Mannion MP (Roger Allam), Stewart Pearson (Vincent Franklin) in the Thick of It, Season Five.

More from the Magazine

A 'tech-stop' at New York's Google office

In the office we shop, email friends and go to the gym – the only thing we don’t do much of is work. Meanwhile, at home we do our work email, take part in conference calls, write reports and have our best ideas, says Lucy Kellaway.

But another view is that leisure and work now increasingly blend into one. The new reality is that people in many creative jobs now combine holidays and working, Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway has argued.

A ban on email is not the answer, argues Ksenia Zheltoukhova, research associate at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. It could even hurt workers who increasingly require flexible working – keeping in touch on trains, emailing between time zones and leaving early to look after the children. A better approach is to educate managers about work-life balance and encourage them to prioritise.


About allatsea

Sixty year old master-mariner. Absolutely gorgeous. Well wedged.....when compared to a Nairobi street urchin. Sorted, in that I haven't been in court recently. Hopelessly optimistic, terminally disappointed. Good with cats and other fluffy things. No musical talent. Generous to a fault provided it's someone else's round. Political centreist with far right and left viewpoints. A green activist from the hydrocarbon position with nuclear leanings. Averse to avarice but always happy to receive lottery wins, gifts, windfalls, legacies, prizes and wet sloppy kisses.
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