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Are laws like the French ban on emails after work saving us or burying our jobs? (thetopline.co)
44 points by agupta06 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 69 comments

It can also impact IT professionals and others in fields where after-work emergencies are frequent.

Come again, what now? For critical services you have an on-call roster, like hospitals and utilities have always had. Why would anyone think that IT was any different? If the company continuously flies by the seat of its pants and needs to call in the sysadmin to put out unscheduled fires it's simply poorly run, that's all.

Absolutely this.

I don't respond to email after work unless the building is literally on fire unless I'm on rotation in which case that's either in my contract and I'm compensated for it or it isn't and I don't respond.

Salary buys 40hrs of my time (on average, some weeks might be 45, some 35) and that is it.

My time outside of that is my own and jealously guarded.

Absolutely. My work wanted after hours support but would never pony up with the requested on-call rate. They'd still pester us and ask for Gentlemen's Agreements to attend if we happened to be available.

All the while we used to get lectured about maintaining a good work-life balance from HR.

It's ridiculous how the article portrays the employee as the as the bad guy here. Remember that the law only applies to companies with >50 employees. If you are at that scale, you can afford to pay on call people for emergencies.

'employees a “right to disconnect” from technology after office hours.'

seems reasonable to me. not a ban, but we should have the right to refuse.

if a company continuously flies by the seat of its pants and needs a sysadmin at all times, then hire more sysadmins, come up with a better solution, or rightfully go out of business.

hospital doctors is a very different animal, and honestly I haven't thought long enough on it nor have enough information on it to make an opinion, so I'll leave that to the field to decide.

as far as utilities, I believe they are paid overtime. like 2x. in my first job that was a support role, I was told to stay on call 5-8 and work 1 extra weekend shift from home every 4 weeks without additional pay.

In IT generally, yes; but specifically in pre-money startups, you usually can't afford to employ enough people to have an "on-call roster." The single ops person (who is usually also one of the devs) has to work a regular shift, and then also be on-call to put out fires.

(Not that this situation has anything to do with the law under discussion, which is only for 50+-employee companies; but it is an awful situation generally and one we should figure out how to avoid—it's IMHO one of the primary causes of burnout.)

That's a recipe for disaster - a burnt out engineer is the last person you want next to a customer emergency in a proof of concept startup. This is one of the reasons why multi-person founding teams are favored by investors.

Regardless if you have 3 people or 23, you have to balance the load between them. Having one person shoulder the responsibility and pain alone leads to resentment, burnout and failure.

Even if you are a non-tech founder, you can chip in by taking pager duty alerts and verifying that they are real and not a false alarm. It's amazing how much a night of sleep after weeks of fires can really help you stay sane.

It's really sad how many execs who claim to be very technical do not understand this. Recently had a debate on this exact issue where they were going to assign after hours support duty to the sole engineer on a particular API that's supporting a mission critical dashboard.

The right way to do it would have been to work with other teams and product to share the burden of alert triage and filtering false positives. If and only if it's a real problem that can't remediated with a restart, then we can wake up the sole engineer.

Otherwise, burnout and churn...

Moreover, certain contracts can and do stipulate on-call schedules.

This article is rather absurd.

Precisely. What this is about is pushing the requirement to be on-call into the open. It has to be negotiated and agreed to. And, hopefully, compensated for. That's all.

At some point we have to decide whether the purpose of society is to promote the general welfare of all citizens or just to give capitalists the opportunity to make as much money as they can. I don't see anything wrong with worker protections. The capitalists have plenty of protections like patents and copyrights.

I agree. As indicated below; the way you phrased it comes off very partisan. I infer I have the opposite bias; but still agree. This law is flexible. It is for larger company's; presents the choice to the worker and seems to have reasonable adjustments for both parties.

I think protecting workers is good but top down absolutism isn't. From what I can tell based on the article this seems to be a measured response to the issue taking the middle ground

I see the issue of peoples' time being taken advantage of in the public sector, too, which I would argue is not necessarily capitalism. A good example is a teacher, or professor, or researcher--someone who is either salaried or paid for a set number of hours, but has expectations far outside a normal 40 hour work week. The larger government system dictates that person cannot be compensated more than a certain amount, yet that person could not hold their job if they only put in that set amount of time.

All property law, basically.

Indeed. It's no accident that the Libertarian outlook puts so much stock in property law and very little in labour law, it's an outflow of the Powell Memorandum. When you have much property to lose you seek to protect it, but when your only property is your labour then Libertarianism can't do much for you.

Excellent point. I have yet to hear a meaningful reply to the argument that 'the American free enterprise system' implicitly depends on having a whole continent's worth of resources to exploit at the outset.

Libertarianism would be a lot easier to take seriously if it banned inheritance or something to prevent the accumulation of resources that could be handed to others, which is at odds with the whole notion of meritocracy. Libertarians do make some effort to speak up for open labor markets and abolition of borders, but I can't think of any libertarians leading the charge for immigration reform offhand.

> I don't see anything wrong with worker protections

As long as people can opt-out then it's fine. Otherwise I think there is something wrong with it: if two consenting adults want to send work emails to each other after 5pm what business is that of yours?

two consenting adults

Bait-and-switch alert! Most economic relations are not between 'two consenting adults' of equal economic power engaged in equitable contractual arrangements for mutual advantage.

If people can opt out, then this gives the opportunity for the business owner to make opting out a requirement to get the job. Then you may as well not have the protection at all. You can't opt out of:

- minimum wages


- discrimination protection

- etc.

There's no special reason why you should be able to opt out of this work hour regulation. Now if the regulation is overall a bad idea, that's a separate question.

Yes it's a fundamental philosophical problem isn't it. Protecting people by taking away their freedoms. A tricky balance and you can see how people come down on either side of it.

Bullshit. 'Taking away their freedom's is an extremely inaccurate characterization of employment regulation. The reality is trying to protect employees by taking away the freedom of employers to exploit them. You're trying to shift the loss of freedom onto employees, and effectively saying they're losing the right to enter into bad deals out of short-term necessity - the old fallacy of the rich as well as the poor being 'free' to sleep under bridges while ignoring the fact that virtually nobody chooses to do that if they have other options available.

It's protecting the commons. As an individual it might make sense for me to opt out of those regulations because I can get a job easier or command a higher wage. This only works if most people follow the regulations. The problem is when companies make opting out a de facto part of the deal and then individuals are no longer getting a benefit from their choices but are forced into it

Yes I think I'd agree in practice. I was really replying to the 'nothing wrong with it' assertion. I think there is something fundamentally wrong with it and we should acknowledge we're taking away people's freedom, but it's probably an acceptable trade-off in practice.

Well we'll place you on the defeatist side. Please stand down then when the rest of us try to argue for progress by enshrining new rights and not tossing them up in the air.

No I'm the optimist! I hope people can be left to work out their own arrangements amicably. But accept we aren't there yet so support a little nudge here and there. You're the defeatist - assuming they can't and stepping in to force them to do it your way instead.

Work out own arrangements indeed. That's what the infuriating "Right-to-Know" laws are for. You have as an employee the right to know about the hazards of the chemicals you are working with. But you do not have a right to proper safety equipment or training. It's enshrining a race to the bottom that does nothing to improve workplace safety.

Oh and you can opt out of OSHA and minimum wages - by joining the military (Executive Order 12196).

I suppose that it makes sense that the only employer in the country that needs to be able to (legally) routinely put its "employees" in mortal peril would have a carve-out from the health and safety regulations.

Never thought​ about it that way. The problem is that the military has socialized medicine so it's not good for libertarians either.

An exception that proves a rule if ever there were one.

> As long as people can opt-out then it's fine.

Not quite. If people can opt-out, then the ones that have little leverage against their (potential) employer -- precisely the ones that need this protection the most -- will be screwed over.

Where should be the line drawn on what two consenting adults agree to? Also, is "consent" and "adult" actually well defined?

> Where should be the line drawn on what two consenting adults agree to?

It seems to me the line of what you allow people to consent to should probably be pretty far beyond 'reading an email'! But yes it's fundamentally problematic issue of how we choose to run a society.

That so much a loaded partisan view of the world...

The citizens are capitalists: they are (almost) all looking to put their saving where the interest rate is the highest, they would (almost) all protect their private property and seek to increase their own capital, and is anyone seriously considering that the government should run the means of production?

Workers protection need some balance: pushed to the extreme it leads to competitive loss. The "general welfare" of all citizens does not means you have to push the cursor all the way: France switched to 35h weekly legal a few years back, but why not 30h? Or 20h? That would surely improve the happiness of workers! What about PTO? Legally entitled to 5 weeks currently in France, why not double it? Etc...

No, it's absolute truth. Workers in generally are simply incapable of owning means of production beyond very small businesses, and their participation of the market as stockholders is minimal and comes with near-zero ability to influence the companies for which they might be shareholders.

Capital should be at the service of society, not the other way around. We know that we can have perfectly functional societies where wealth is distributed more evenly and less work is done at the lower end of the pyramid at essentially no disadvantages in quality of life for anyone involved.

What is "absolute truth" here? The manichean opposition that is proposed between "promote the general welfare of all citizens" and "give capitalists the opportunity to make as much money as they can"?

This is what I was addressing and I'm still considering as a very manipulating rhetoric that does not leave any place for nuance and balance.

The nuance and balance exists in the practice of states with maker-driven capitalist economies that still make an effort to capture and funnel a part of profits to the benefits of the participants of society regardless of their position in the market.

On the contrary, it's a vocal minority of libertarians that want to insist that benefits to capitalists are indispensable to the welfare of the rest.

"Workers protection need some balance"

Exactly. Balance is the keyword. The last decades have shifted this balance towards capital owners and the Trump administration is trying to do even more.

"France switched to 35h weekly legal a few years back, but why not 30h? Or 20h? "

You could ask the same questions the other way: "Corporate tax to 0%? Dividend taxed at 0%? Patents and copyrights never expire?"

The "economy" is not a natural law like gravity but human created. We can decide where the balance should be.

Savings come from income. Savings are a small fraction of income:


Apart from housing, many people have remarkably little savings. In the UK, there are all sorts of schemes to make people become capitalists like this with their pensions, but I'm not sure if their hearts are really in it. And I think most people are smart enough to realise that cutting their income but boosting savings rates by a tiny fraction is going to result in a smaller savings pile and a worse life in the meantime.

I don't want to be a capitalist and to spend all my waking hours wondering if I'm competing as effectively as possible against every other micro-capitalist out there.

I mean, I have a life plan that involves accumulating sufficient capital to provide approximate financial security, but that's just a fancy way of saying I hope to put together enough to stop worrying about it. What I actually want is somewhere to live and work in modest comfort free of distractions, and to able to travel and visit interesting places at regular intervals.

I like making art for art's sake (as opposed to commercial design or monetizable brand creation etc.). I'm not super-talented or super-skilled, I just have an overriding compulsion to produce things that are aesthetically pleasing to me. It might even be a form of brain damage, because this compulsion hasn't done me much economic good but it still takes priority over other activities. I have absolutely no desire to get rich off it, just not to be poor. Realistically, if my work does have art value in the eyes of others most of that is likely to accrue to the work long after I am dead, like this Basquiat that someone decided to park $110 million in yesterday: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/18/arts/jean-michel-basquiat...

Being in a constant state of financial anxiety/arousal is not freedom.

The capitalists would be in trouble if everybody wanted to be capitalist. We also need people who do the actual work and want to do it well. Capitalists and workers need each other and should respect each other.

I don't buy into this capitalist/worker distinction either, which is just a fancy name for wage slavery.

Sometime allowing companies to maximally extract value from their employees actually hurts the economy in the long run. If there's less incentive to improve operations, it's just makes it easier for companies to crack the whip rather than make capital investments in technologies that will benefit us all in the long run.

One could argue these sorts of laws can act as accelerators toward automation. One case study could be the French jet manufacturer Dassault. Part of the reason for investing heavily into robotics was labor law constraints. It wasn't the entire reason, but it did add a financial incentive.

In the long term, would you prefer we live in a world where people feel compelled to answer emails at all hours, or would you prefer to live in a world where companies have an incentive to invest in technologies and processes that allow people to have a better quality of life?

Like anything, there needs to be a balance.

It seems pretty simple. I do not check work email when I'm not at work.

Exactly, same as me. It's a very effective way of setting boundaries, and if my employer has a problem with it I know the place is not for me.

Lucky you. My work requires I check my work email every single day. Even if I'm on vacation.

I assume you're in tech? Consider finding another job. There is too much demand for smart people in this field than to suffer this kind of treatment. Or maybe your salary makes up for it?

My salary is probably low compared to what a lot of tech workers make, but among other intangible benefits, I don't work nights or weekends and vacations are really vacations.

Sorry if this is a little blunt, but why do you stay?

That sounds horrible. Unless there's other major benefits to the job, I'd be looking around for new work as soon as I heard that I'd be required to check mail on vacation.

This isn't a criticism of specifically you per se; and I'm not the parent post.

> why don't you leave?

I think there are 2 main answers that cover most people:

- Difficulty transitioning to new job; e.g. can't afford to leave, actively trying to leave, aren't in a competitive position.

As someone who is broke and actively trying to skill up; often frustrated when people with better skills, resources or opportunities imply that it's easy and critically that even if you ARE leaving it's a process not simply a decision.

- People love their job; don't like this aspect. Couple mates work at SpaceX; they are constantly dealing with email and work overflow. They complain about it-- totally fair IMO; but ultimately they enjoy the work to much to leave.

>As someone who is broke and actively trying to skill up; often frustrated when people with better skills, resources or opportunities imply that it's easy and critically that even if you ARE leaving it's a process not simply a decision.

When you have a job that pays well, it's actually very easy to find a new job, because even if you hate where you're currently at, you have the benefit of time. Nobody is implying that the parent comment should just strap on their job helmet and squeeze down into a job cannon and fire off into job land. But if you're able to sit for a year watching job boards, contacting recruiters, etc, you will eventually find something.

I hope you get good compensation for this. I'd feel a constant low-key stress and couldn't switch off if I was in your shoes. For such requirements from my employer, I'd demand 50-100% more money than I make now.

I'm pretty sure it violates multiple laws in various jurisdictions to be on 'vacation' while not being on vacation.

Huh. That's an interesting definition of "vacation".

Good for you that you have that leverage.

Unfortunately, when a manager is pressuring you to do so, not all of us have the fortitude to straight up say no.

EDIT: to be clear, I do not count myself amongst those unable to say no. But for those who can't, thankfully we have society behind to help.

I didn't once when I was young, now knowing when to say 'no' and when to really make it stick is a highly valuable lesson taught over years.

In fact if I could go back 15 years and give 22yo old me one lesson it would be learning to say no.

It is an immensely valuable skill to have, that is usually not learned early.

> Technology often creates unrealistic demands on workers’ time – this is not controversial. However, it also plays an important role in providing flexible working hours. Some of us may be willing to work late evenings as it gives us time off in the day to tend to family or household chores. Some like to use their daily commute time to catch up on work. Besides, more and more people are working remotely these days or with colleagues in other time zones. For them to switch off at a particular time of the day may not be practically feasible.

Ultimately, it boils down to clear communication, expectation, and boundaries.

I work in what I believe to be a very healthy team (I know that because I have also worked in very unhealthy teams). If I am not in the office, there is no expectation of me being available in any way - responding to emails off hours is a bonus, something I do becaue I enjoy my work. This also means that I am aware that if I email a coworker on a Saturday night because I feel like it, I have no expectation for them to get back to me until Monday morning. In fact, I might hold back from sending that email on Saturday night because I know that they're nice and might feel compelled to reply right away if they see it - and who am I to steal 30 minutes of their Saturday night?

If we have an important deadline coming soon, or something that requires more sustained attention, then we put things in place to deal with that (eg an on call system) - but again making expectations and boundaries clear. If you are on call for database monitoring from 9p-1am, it doesn't mean you are free for reviewing patches during that time.

It took many jobs before I found one as healthy and sustainable as my current one - I think it's pretty damn rare. One passive aggressive manager or insecure PM can lead to everyone scrambling to prove themselves, have a culture of "everything is always on fire and always at the highest priority", and so on.

I don't think laws targeting directly the symptoms of a dysfunctional employer/employee relationship are going to be very effective. Who enforces them? Peer pressure is a terrible thing - if a new employee joins a company where everyone is expected to reply to emails at any time of the day or week, what are they to do? Lawsuits are expensive and draining, and employees are rarely the ones to hold the power in the employment relationship.

The hopes I have revolve more around general, universal social support - think universal health insurance, basic income, etc. Ideally, these would let employees be much more flexible and free in how they can deal with abusive managers and dysfunctional cultures - namely by voting with their feet because paying for rent and diapers is not a concern.

Personally I don't check my emails after work/on weekends/on vacation, and I wouldn't want a job where I would have to do it. It's actually one of my own criteria when looking at a job offer. Of course I have no problem when it's an emergency, but anything not urgent can wait for me to come back.

I have no problem with companies requiring or allowing this, so long as the pay reflects this. From my limited experience though, most of friends who are more of the 24/7 type self-impose that discipline and don't get paid nearly enough for the amount of effort poured in. It's like a race to the bottom where the only winner is the company.

I don't understand why this is such a contentious topic. You shouldn't have to check your email after work. However, I don't think it's unreasonable to contact an employee if there's an emergency or something very urgent, as long as it's an infrequent one-off exception. Surely we can evaluate these on a case-by-case basis? It probably depends on the company size, its field, and the potential impact.

This law is really not applied in France. As experienced already, companies don't have at all the pressure. So there is no experience for now.

Do you need "experience" for EVERYTHING? Does that mean you can't say a dime about the sun rising tomorrow because you have no experience of the sun rising tomorrow?

If the sun rising was a new development, and I had never seen it before, then yea I would feel uncomfortable saying it would ride tomorrow based on my lack of experience

A huge percentage of you are developers, and off-hours coverage and email-checking expectations vary. But as a DevOps/SA/SRE/etc. I have spent my entire bloody career (almost 15 years at this point) suffering on-call and trying to run from it. Note, I don't mind on-call as much if I get paid overtime. But no one does, not in the US. Thus I applaud mechanisms to dissuade workers from accepting that expectation from companies, that they own you since you're salaried. Guess what happens with opt-in, your coworkers (or you) experience a compulsion to work out of fear of bonus or job loss, and the protection doesn't exist anymore.

I decided to stop waiting for capitalism to throw me a bone. In fact, in New York, it only seems to be getting worse: the entitlement that companies feel to control your unpaid life is unprecedented thanks to PagerDuty, phones and so forth.

Hence I'm a consultant. I'll do off-hours, no problem, but both of us know what we're getting into, the company and I, thanks to contract wording.

It's more honest that way.

Burying our jobs, that's obvious.

Culture change can happen by various means. Government laws that create unemployment and reduce wages are the worst.

An approach where labour gives in to the demands of capital is going to be self defeating in the long run. With the increase in automation, the ability of businesses to treat people as a disposal resource is only going to increase massively. We need to fight that power, because its going to grow to a point where it controls every aspect of our lives.

I expect to see American IT engineer's comment "yeah I don't respond to work email or issues after work". Its because they have Indian H1Bs working round the clock. Any greedy American corp has Indian IT engineers standing by 24x7. Don't believe me ? Visit Amex dev center in Phoenix, Walmart in Bentonville, Visa in Kansas. Take a count of how many Americans are scheduled for production support. None ! .So when American IT engineers says they dont reply or respond to work related issues after work. Its at the cost of exploiting H1B employees, the very group that everyone puts the blame on for losing their jobs to and to get votes.

recently my employer started requiring 2 factor authentication to check work mail outside of work, which means i am now two times less likely to check my email outside work.

This article is both wrong on many points and awfully biased.

>Will this law help maintain work-life balance or is it an assault on freedom?

...The actual assault on freedom is employers sending mails after work hours and expecting you to read them on your free time, considering the uneven relationship between employer and employee. If anything, it levels the playing field.

It then goes on as if a definition of working hours was enshrined in the law, and how it can prevent flexible working hours. No. If your working hours are 3AM to 12AM, then mails are okay at this time. If you have spotty days with an hour here and an hour there, those will be your working hours If you're a "cadre", then your working hours are basically anything that is not your rest time (a consecutive 11 hours after you left work). And, like said, there are no penalties defined. Do you know why? Because a) companies were already being condemned for sanctioning their employees for not checking mails outside of working hours and b) It doesn't forbid the employees to check their mail after work, it allows them not to. You want to check those messages at 3AM ? Is it of your own volition? Are you not being pressured by your employer because <x> is needed quickly? Sure, go ahead, you're free to do it. Even if you are being pressured, you are free to do it. However, if you sue, your employer will be found guilty of breaking this law.

>For them to switch off at a particular time of the day may not be practically feasible.

No defined hours in the law aside from your own.

>what about the ambitious workers among us who seek to climb the corporate ladder as quickly as possible?

A) You're a bit of an idiot if you think this will ever be good for you

B) Good thing, you're still free to do it.

>For them, perhaps, overtime hours could be an opportunity to learn faster.

Overtime hours means that you're still working. And being paid to. Why would you not be able to check those _work_ mails when you're _working_ ?

>But despite these examples, most remain skeptical of such a law being passed in other countries, especially the U.S., where long workweeks and foregone vacation time are the norm

On the other hand, american working hours have been a running gag for every european country so... Maybe eventually the problem does not lay in Europe.

Ultimately, the text of this "law" is a mere few lines (https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexteArticle.do;jsessio...), and is only part of a massive change. There's much more in the full text that destroys things that people fought and died for.

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