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Workaholics beware! Will your work emails be banned after 6pm?

28th April, 2014

Measures have recently been introduced in France to protect employees from being forced to work outside of office hours, could this be a step in the right direction for the UK too?

It is often the case nowadays, with more demanding jobs and devices such as Smartphones and Tablets, that employees are working longer hours and sending emails late into the evening. The problem doesn’t stop at home either. With most people now reachable wherever they are in the world, employees find themselves working whilst on holiday.

The new rules have, so far, been introduced into the French digital and consultancy sectors and they state that employees must switch off work phones outside of working hours and that firms cannot pressure employees to check work emails during personal time. The General Confederation of Managers will allow some digital working time, but this will only be in exceptional circumstances and France still enforces the 35-hour working week it introduced back in 1998.

It would seem that the French aren’t alone in their worries that the digital age is exposing employees to longer working hours. In December 2011, Volkswagen introduced systems to stop their computers sending emails 30 minutes after an employee’s shift and the computers would not resume until 30 minutes before the employee returned to work. A similar method was later adopted in Germany as well.

Whilst the UK does offer some protection through the Working Time Regulations, this has been described as simply not enough to cover out of hours emails. There are currently several exemptions to the Working Time Regulations, such as in respect of lawyers or doctors and it is probable that even if there was an out of hours ban introduced, there would continue to be many exemptions.

There has been a mixed reaction to the proposals to introduce an out of office ban and many believe that such a ban would be unenforceable in any event. TUC are nevertheless supportive of the proposals and say that the Working Time Regulations need updating, as they were introduced at a time when mobile phones were not in wide circulation. TUC has suggested that some employees aren’t being able to switch off whilst NHS workers are paid to be on call even if they end up not working. They say that “if you’re not being paid, you’re not being valued”. However, an outright ban could be counter productive in terms of flexibility for remote working or emailing between time zones where travelling.

Although an out of hours ban may not be introduced, this could be a good opportunity to take in-house steps to support your workforce. One approach would be to provide training for managers about work-life balances and encourage them to prioritise.

For further information and advice in relation to the Working Time Regulations, please contact Claire Brook on 01244 405575 or send an email to [email protected].

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