The Internet has blown up over the past couple of days with the following story, originally published in U.K. paper The Guardian: that two of the biggest labor unions in the République put actual, legally-binding bans on their members checking work e-mails from supervisors after 6 p.m. But as it turns out, it’s not quote that cut and dry.
The Guardian claimed that the reason for passing the bans is that in 1999, France famously passed a bill limiting the full-time work week to just 35 hours, and that this ban on checking smartphones after 6 p.m. was an extension of that law. But in fact, something was lost in translation—the new rule, which has nothing to do with that law, actually only applies to about 25% of the workforce protected by those two unions: independent contractors who can sometimes work upwards of 78 hours a week, and beyond.
The new regulations, which were part of a months-long discussion between two groups of employers and their respective unions, involved what they called an “obligation to disconnect.” They are not legally binding, but rather were agreed upon by the involved parties; and thanks to the trés-French vagueness of the phrase, it’s not actually clear what it means.
But according to the French version of Slate magazine, it’s essentially just acknowledging that independent contractors who often work far beyond the standard 35-hour work week have a right to a certain amount of free time each day. The Guardian kind of took that idea and ran with it, playing off the all-too-cliché imagery of a French worker drinking wine on their lunch break and taking a chic little nap at their desk.
“The agreement guarantees them a minimum daily rest period of 11 hours, which is to say that they can work legally up to 13 hours per day,” French Slate writes. “Not really a day that ends at 6 p.m.—unless it starts at 5 in the morning.”
All this being said, we definitely still wish we lived in France.