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France's New Email Law: A Classic Case Of Not Believing Everything You Read Online

You’ve probably heard by now about France introducing a new labour law that makes it illegal for companies to send emails to employees after office hours. The news spread like wildfire throughout the world in the past day or so, and as expected, many non-French netizens immediately expressed their envy on social media.

I couldn’t help but feel like something was off about the news, and thus tried scouring reports by French websites with the help of what little French I knew (and my good buddy Google Translate). However, I couldn’t seem to find a trace of anything that resembled this viral piece of news.

In the meantime all over the world, every major English-speaking press publication was glorifying the news as if it was some divine intervention that could potentially have an influence on their own statutory systems.

2 Years Ago Something Similar Happened

Twas April 2014, and news broke out that France had implemented a new labour law banning employees from checking their work emails after 6pm.

Like a plague, every major news outlet from the United States and United Kingdom picked it up. As these news sites are often seen as credible and trusted sources of information by publications in other countries, they in turn reported this bit of news to their own local readers.

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That’s when the resourceful people over at Buzzfeed came to set the record straight.

Citing an article by The Guardian as the main culprit for duping many sites that used it as a source, Buzzfeed continued to explain how these news sites misinterpreted the French labour laws.  In it, they made references to several French online publications that did report on the matter, and translated it for the benefit of English speakers. These include what transpired between a federation of employers and a workers’ union, debunking that it was actually from the French government.

The article was also shared on Twitter by the French Deputy Minister for Digital Affairs, Axelle Lemaire, as she tweeted in English about the false news being spread among the English media.

The French media cheekily decided to have some fun by poking at this revelation, as Business Insider found out.

Buzzfeed To France’s Rescue Again?

It is now nearing the end of May 2016, and the world has once again come full circle reporting another bit of news about some new French legislation, supposedly regarding emails.

Before the 2014 6pm email curfew saga could be forgotten, news had to break out again about the ban on work emails over the weekends.

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Buzzfeed News, of course, once again did some digging to get to the bottom of this ‘new’ labour law. They translated a transcript of article 25 of a labour bill that is, at the moment, still making its way through the French National Assembly and Senate. This was what they deciphered:

”[The annual negotiation on professional equality between women and men and the quality of life at the workplace is about:]
The modalities of the right of the employee to disconnect and the implementation by the company of control mechanisms for the use of digital tools, for the purpose of guaranteeing the respect of rest periods and vacations as well as personal and family life. In case of a lack of agreement, the employer defines these modalities and communicates them to the employees by any means. In companies of at least 50 employees, these modalities are subject to a charter developed following the advice of the works council or, lacking one, of the staff representatives, which in particular provides for the implementation of training and awareness actions for the employees and the middle and senior managers for the reasonable use of digital tools.”

Article 25
Article 25

While the article did mention something along the lines of “the right of the employee to disconnect” from the digital tools of a workplace, in no way were emails specifically mentioned. If you’re up for it, read Article 25 in its entirety at the French Senate website here.

As of now, nobody from the French ministry has came outright to confirm this, though it still something for us to ponder over.

What This Actually Means

The passing of Article 25 will essentially only impact employees belonging to larger corporations within France. As with any country, there is always a magic number that smaller business tend to not go over for fear of additional taxes and costs. In France, that number is 49. It denotes the number of employees a company can have before additional taxes and regulations kick in. As most local business usually splinter off into multiple entities, they are by no means obliged to follow what Article 25 entails.

“France holds the curious distinction of having more than twice as many companies with exactly 49 employees, as it does those with 50 or more.” NY Times

As for companies that are able to accommodate 50 or more employees, stringent and costly job protection schemes which include a workers’ council with labour union delegates, a health and safety committee, and an annual collective bargaining must be put in place. While larger corporations could probably afford all these measures, owners of small businesses would definitely see a decrease in profits if they adhered to them.

Learning Points

Image Credit: Good Read
Image Credit: Good Read

For one, learn a new language. It may just help you when doing a fact check, and could be a huge asset should you happen to need to reference your work from a source that is in a foreign language.

Lastly, just because a piece of news has gone viral, it never hurts to read up on the background information. Especially for government announcements, the necessary information is usually available on their governmental websites.

 

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