Tyree: Should bothering employees after work hours be illegal?

On January 1, France implemented a new law that gives workers the legal “right to disconnect” from emails and other digital correspondence from co-workers and bosses while off the clock.

 

For the sake of accuracy, I must point out that the law covers only companies with 50 or more employees, thus leaving out the mom-and-pop operations (or, as they call them in France, the mom-and-pop-and-pop’s-mistress operations).


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If workers and management can’t compromise on after-work correspondence, the company must publish a charter that specifically states expectations for workers outside the office.

Alas, it is a rather toothless law. As the “Christian Science Monitor” reports, it lacks any defined punishment for companies that fail to define employment terms or abide by after-hours rules. This shortcoming certainly dashed the hopes of the guillotine industry. There would have been protests in the street, but most of the guillotine office staff were tied up using France’s generous benefit of “six weeks paid leave for flashbacks from that really traumatic paper cut incident during my probation period.”

Even though the standard work week in France was set at 35 hours in 2000, I can understand the stress that office workers face. My teachers assured me the workday is a constant barrage of “Where is the library?” and “I want a cheese omelet.” Unless someone accidentally “presses two” and gets a frantic string of “Donde esta la casa de Pepe?”

Perhaps unions should have forgotten about legislation and instead countered family-time intrusions by outsmarting management. (“Oui, you can pick my brain about the Chevalier Project; but be forewarned that I’m including you in a CONFERENCE CALL with the vinyl siding guy, the home security system guy and the alumni donations guy.”)

A lot of people around the world empathize with the French professionals, but the farmers and ranchers I deal with in my day job at a farmers cooperative think the French “have got it made and don’t know it.” The farm folk can only dream of a world in which they can be sheltered from unexpected communications for most of the day. When a cow is delivering a calf in a hailstorm at midnight, they don’t get to say, “Chill out and check my rights in the CHARTER, Bossy.”

Perhaps the NEED for after-hours conversations could be minimized if a few executives had a backbone. I know there are multinational goals and umpteen time zones and all that jazz, but the corporate world doesn’t HAVE to be one crisis after another.

Instead of huffing, “Maurice, our client in Buenos Aires needs an algorithm ASAP to determine the exact optimum proportion of mauve and puce oolated squiggs for shipment at Christmas 2017,” a manager could say, “Tomorrow morning after wine break, we’ll tell the client in Buenos Aires that he can help us find a new place to stick the Arc de Triomphe!”

Skeptics wonder if this French revolt against blurred lines between work and leisure time could really be exported to the U.S. and other countries.

With all due respect to the American work ethic, perhaps the lines have already been irreversibly blurred.

“Get me the legal department — stat! I need to notarize your bets in the March Madness pool and your requisition for my daughter’s Girl Scout cookies. And ask Human Resources if they have any snails to serve with the Do-Si-Dos. Mmm…”

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