What is France’s workplace ‘right to disconnect’?

The precise ‘right’ can differ company by company

You may be able to ignore emails sent to you outside of work hours in France

Reader Question: I moved from the UK to France to start a new job, and my neighbour was telling me about a ‘right to disconnect’ from my work laptop in the evening. I am not aware that this exists in the UK, what does it entail?

There is indeed a law that allows workers in French companies a ‘right to disconnect’ from their job outside of working hours, however its application is not necessarily straightforward. 

Brought in as part of the 2017 reforms to the loi travail (labour law), the right to disconnect allows employees to not receive, or to be able to ignore, digital forms of communication from management – phone calls, emails, texts, etc – outside of their defined working hours. 

Companies that do not follow these rules in theory face a potential €3,750 fine and up to one year in prison for senior management concerned.

Precise rules can vary by company

The law does not provide a comprehensive set of rules, instead stating that employers and employees need to come to agreement together. 

For larger companies (those with 50 or more employees) this should be via the company works council (comité social et économique) or collective agreement with a worker’s union. 

Read more: Is it true that union membership in the UK is higher than in France?

This allows for companies and workers to cater to the specific situation of their workplaces, however it also means exact rules can differ greatly. 

For example, one company might allow general work-related emails still to be sent – even if the recipient does not need to respond. Other companies may only permit emails in the case of certain predefined urgent issues.

Smaller companies, without union representation or a works council, should also provide general guidelines for its employees on the right to disconnect. 

In your case, you should check with your union, works council, or other employees what the exact situation is which should be available in writing. 

Note that the rules may not always be followed, particularly if it is part of the company / work culture to put in extra effort. 

Also some workplace cultures have evolved since the Covid pandemic, where working from home became commonplace. 

This unofficially altered the rules on the right to disconnect for some with those working remotely spending more time ‘online’ and available, in response to not having to commute. Not all agreements over the right to disconnect will cover working from home (télétravail). 

Read more: Five things to know to understand the French mindset