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  • Carla V. Minnard

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We can learn a lot from the French. And I’m not talking about the obvious things like how to make mouth-watering cheese or stellar champagne. They often lead the way in terms of innovative labor laws and working conditions: 

  • In the 1990’s France adopted the 35-hour workweek 

  • Under current French law, mandatory arbitration agreements are unenforceable 

  • Most employees are entitled to five weeks of leave per year, plus bank holidays 

  • Women are entitled to 4 months of paid maternity leave

The fact that France has a strong culture that leans heavily toward worker protections may be a result of an extremely vocal workforce and strong unions. Massive protests, worker demonstrations, and riots broke out early last year when labor reforms were proposed that threatened (among other things) the 35-hour workweek.

France received the highest possible ranking from The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in its Global Rights Index, which measures the best and worst countries for worker’s rights. According to ITUC’s 2014 report, France received a score of 1 (the highest possible) and the U.S. was scored a 4, the second to lowest possible ranking.

Last month, the French Parliament enacted a new law that is designed to give employees in France a right to “disconnect” from all work technology once their workday has ended. No need to check emails, respond to text messages or calls. When the day is done, it’s done. The new law, an amendment to the French Labor Code, will require companies with 50 or more employees to negotiate new guidelines with staff as part of a mandatory annual negotiation that focuses on quality of life, among other things. Companies must negotiate “[t]he terms and conditions for full exercise by employees of their right to disconnect and implementation by the company of systems to regulate the use of digital tools, with the aim of ensuring the observance of breaks and holidays, as well as private and family life.”

Imagine what our lives would be like if everyone was unable to access email or texts or any work-related technology after 5 pm. Like a bank that closes at a set time, the technology would simply be inaccessible. A thought that is simultaneously terrifying and thrilling.

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