relaxed workspace

France’s “after 6 p.m.” work cutoff isn’t what most people might think.

Rumors have been circulating around the Internet about how France recently barred its citizens from working after 6 p.m. A rumored deal made between employers’ federations and unions, says The Guardian, reportedly states that employers must allow their employees to halt their work at 6 p.m., including the sending of emails and other use of electronic devices. The companies expected to take the biggest blow: Google, Facebook, Deloitte, and PwC.

The Guardian and other respectable news sources have been talking up the work paradise that is France, which already employs a 35-hour work week, asking U.S. readers to comment on the new restriction that further places workers in the States in a comparative hell. But is the rumor based in fact?

At least one news source doesn’t think so.  Slate dug a little deeper into the story and revealed that the federations and unions did make a deal but that it doesn’t exactly forbid work after a certain point in the evening. Slate references The Guardian’s article that says the deal “affects a million employees in the technology and consultancy sectors.” The only problem with that analysis is that the deal between the French organizations is not formal law, it doesn’t restrict work after 6 p.m., and it doesn’t affect millions of employees. The problems arose primarily, Slate says, from translation.

There was, in fact, a deal between the federations and unions. They outlined an “obligation to disconnect” that compliments restrictions already in place that force a 35-hour work week. The French labor groups represent, in this deal, workers defined as “forfait jour” contractors, who work as independent contractors and are not subject to the traditional work-week hour limit. They can put in long hours, and the disconnection obligation provides them with some rights.

Although the phrase is vague, it does define a minimum rest period that employers must grant their “forfait jour” employees. It says these workers must get a daily rest period of 11 hours; so, they are allowed to work for up to 13 hours each day. says that the rest period wouldn’t begin at 6 p.m. unless a worker began his or her work day at 5 a.m., which is pretty early for even the most hardened contractor, especially following any previously worked 13-hour days.

The agreement would be, understandably, difficult to manage. And given that its not a formal law, only an agreement, it would also be a pain, if not impossible, to strictly enforce. In any case, the French haven’t completely eliminated the work day just yet; they haven’t even markedly shortened working hours for much of the populace. They only took steps to recognize a previously-stunted segment of a working class. But for all their effort put into this agreement, it seems like the federations and unions have received more inaccurate publicity than they have enforceable outcomes.

Image courtesy of Zonaspace via Wikimedia Commons