After-work emails: banned in France, ‘a national epidemic’ in Canada

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In France, it is now illegal to email employees after work hours
WATCH ABOVE: Hate getting spammed by your boss on the weekend or on a holiday? In France, it’s now illegal for employers to do so – May 27, 2016

No more work emails outside business hours for people in France. The French government has pushed through the El Khomri law, which will give workers the right to disconnect.

Some feel Canadian workers should be entitled to the same treatment.

France’s labour reform will apply to companies with 50 employees or more. Its tech industry was the first to let staff unplug after 6 p.m. in 2014.

“All the studies show there is far more work-related stress today than there used to be, and that the stress is constant,” French MP Benoit Hamon told the BBC this month.

“Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash — like a dog. The texts, the messages, the emails — they colonize the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”

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A 2014 study found those doing work after hours”were more likely to report at least one health problem — ranging from the psychological to the gastrointestinal and cardiovascular.”

A lack of work-life balance can affect people’s focus and sleep as well, experts say.

Should Canada also ban after-hours emails?

Toronto life coach and psychotherapist Krista Roesler would love to see Canadian companies follow in France’s footsteps.

“When employees have boundaries with work, they are more productive and efficient. And they have more energy to do a great job while working,” she said.

“If someone is burned out and exhausted and never takes a break from work, they can’t do their best work. They make mistakes, they are not focused and it can be hard to concentrate.”

It also cuts into the time you could otherwise spend with your family and friends, or doing other things you enjoy and that are good for you (like exercise).

The problem, she realizes, is that employees often feel guilty or afraid that if they don’t check in, they’ll look bad and may even get fired.

“Sometimes it helps to remind clients that they deserve time off from work. They have nothing to feel guilty for and should be really proud of the changes they are making to live a balanced and full life.”

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It has been done

At Edelman, a Toronto-based PR firm, there’s been a unofficial rule in place for roughly five years that encourages no work emails between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

“We implemented it based on input from employees who were feeling overwhelmed by the volume of email they were receiving,” said general manager Scott Evans.

“In general, people — including our clients — were highly supportive. The more compliant people were, the less people felt an expectation to check their devices.”

When it came to implementation, the company found the following guidelines helpful:

  1. Set appropriate rules. For example, senior leadership can still communicate with one another after-hours and be available should an emergency arise.
  2. Lead by example. Managers need to commit to this philosophy when communicating with employees. They can’t send employees after-hours messages.
  3. Stick with it. Remind people of the policy and the problem it’s meant to solve.

READ MORE: 6-hour work day catching on in Sweden; Could it work in Canada?

Germany’s labour ministry also banned its managers from calling or emailing staff outside of work hours in 2013, to prevent employees from burning out.

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In 2011, Volkswagen made it so that its servers would shut down the ability to send emails 30 minutes after an employee’s shift ended.

That same year, Brazil’s government passed a law saying employees who answer work-related emails after-hours are entitled to overtime.

The overtime rule

Employment lawyer Daniel Lublin, of Whitten & Lublin, can see how an after-hours email ban might be “problematic” from a business perspective.

But allowing the practice to continue the way it’s been going — employers giving staff phones and expecting them to check them at all hours — can also land companies in court for unpaid overtime.

It hasn’t happened yet in Canada, to his knowledge, but he said “it could and it should.”

“Companies get away with people working overtime without compensating them, because there is an expectation of responding to inquiries or conducting work through their phones.”

“A lot of companies expect people to be on call, or it’s a requirement to get back to managers or clients immediately.”

While labour laws differ across the country, Lublin said that in Ontario if you work more than 44 hours a week, you’re entitled to overtime unless you’re a manager, accountant, lawyer or IT professional.

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Some people end up working more than 44 hours without any pay though. Not recognizing work that’s being done outside of work has become “a national epidemic,” Lublin said.

He advises employees who find themselves in this situation to speak to their boss or HR department, or alternatively, their provincial labour board.

“It is an issue and I think it’s a prevalent one…At least one government has taken these steps to reduce [it].”

With files from Nicole Bogart, Global News

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