france work email
Revellers gather on the Champs Elysees Avenue in Paris, during New Year celebrations, Dec. 31, 2016. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

France is giving its citizens the right to not check work emails while at home or on holiday with a new law — dubbed the “right to disconnect” — coming into force as the new year starts Sunday.

Introduced by labor minister Myriam El Khomri, the measure is part of a set of labor laws pushed forward in May and requires companies with over 50 workers to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting the hours when staff is not supposed to send or answer emails. In case a deal cannot be reached, the organization has to publish a charter making explicit what is demanded of the employees and their rights out of work hours.

Since 2000, France has a working week of 35 hours, but critics say employees feel obligated to deal with work emails even after work without being paid for these “hidden hours.” The new measure is expected to tackle this “always-on” work culture.

A study published by French research group Eleas in October showed that over a third of French workers used their devices everyday to do work after hours. About 60 percent of workers were in favor of regulation to clarify their rights in this context. This work culture is also blamed for lifestyle issues like burnouts and sleeplessness along with relationship problems.

“There’s a real expectation that companies will seize on the ‘right to disconnect’ as a protective measure,” Xavier Zunigo, a French workplace expert and director of research group Aristat, told the Guardian.

“At the same time, workers don’t want to lose the autonomy and flexibility that digital devices give them,” Zunigo added, explaining the flip side of digital aversion.

Certain big corporations have attempted to limit employees’ out-of-hours work emails. In 2014, the vehicle-maker Daimler gave workers going on holiday an option of having all new emails automatically deleted while they were away, instead of sending an out-of-office reply.