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French employees can legally ignore work emails outside of office hours

French President François Hollande, seen on a iPad screen in Marseille, gestures as he gives his traditional New Year's speech in a prerecorded presentation. (Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters)

That 10 p.m. email from your boss? It's your right to ignore it.

That Saturday ping from a colleague with “just one quick question?” A response on Monday should suffice.

If you're in France, that is.

French workers rang in a new year at midnight — as well as a “right to disconnect” law that grants employees in the country the legal right to ignore work emails outside of typical working hours, according to the Guardian.

The new employment law requires French companies with more than 50 employees to begin drawing up policies with their workers about limiting work-related technology usage outside the office, the newspaper reported.

The motivation behind the legislation is to stem work-related stress that increasingly leaks into people's personal time — and hopefully prevent employee burnout, French officials said.

“Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash, like a dog,” Benoit Hamon, Socialist member of Parliament and former French education minister, told the BBC in May. “The texts, the messages, the emails: They colonize the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”

How many hours of your life have you wasted on work email? Try our depressing calculator.

France has had a 35-hour workweek since 2000, but the policy came under scrutiny recently given France's near-record-high unemployment rate.

The “right to disconnect” provision was packaged with new and controversial reforms introduced last year that were designed to relax some of the country's strict labor regulations. The amendment regarding ignoring work emails was included by French Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri, who reportedly was inspired by similar policies at Orange, a French telecommunications company.

“There are risks that need to be anticipated, and one of the biggest risks is the balance of a private life and professional life behind this permanent connectivity,” Orange Director General Bruno Mettling told Europe1 radio in February. “Professionals who find the right balance between private and work life perform far better in their job than those who arrive shattered.”

The legislation passed the French lower parliamentary house in May. It was not the first time such a bill had been proposed, as The Washington Post's Karen Turner reported. Similar legislation banning work-related emails after work hours had been introduced in France and Germany before but never made it to law.

The move received criticism from some who worried that French workers would get left behind by competitors in other countries where such restrictions did not exist. Still others objected to government interference.

“In France, we are champions at passing laws, but they are not always very helpful when what we need is greater flexibility in the workplace,” Olivier Mathiot, chief executive of PriceMinister, a Paris-based online marketplace, told BBC News in May.

Mathiot told the news site its company had implemented “no-email Fridays” and felt the problem should have been handled through education, not legislation.

However, supporters of the bill said it would be an important move toward minimizing work-related stress among French employees.

“At home the workspace can be the kitchen or the bathroom or the bedroom,” Linh Le, a partner at Elia management consultants in Paris, told BBC News. “You're at home but you're not at home, and that poses a real threat to relationships.”

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French companies are expected to comply with the law on a voluntary basis, and there are no penalties yet for violating it, BBC reported.

In the spring, news of France's “right to disconnect” legislation prompted some discussion about whether anything like it could be viable in the United States.

Hosts on the “Today” show didn't think so when they discussed the incoming French law on a segment in May — while simultaneously riding stationary bikes in support of “Red Nose Day,” an unrelated campaign.

“That [law] would never work here,” host Matt Lauer told his colleagues, as they all sweated and pedaled through the entirety of their live television broadcast.

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