In an effort to combat work-related burnout, the French government has a new labor law requiring employers with at least 50 employees to adopt written policies restricting the hours during which employees can send or receive emails, text messages, or any other digital, work-related communication. The goal is to cut the electronic leash that constantly tethers the employee to his work and, as some studies show, ultimately results in work overload, excessive stress, and other health problems.
The French legislation is particularly relevant in the current U.S. political climate where at least one presidential candidate praises the labor reforms made in modern, industrialized countries and urges the U.S. to follow suit. While the debate rages on about the future of U.S. labor policies, U.S. employers should remember that the following principles are the current law of the land:
- Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, all employees are entitled to be paid for all hours worked;
- According to the Department of Labor, hours worked includes time spent checking and drafting work-related emails; and
- Failure to pay employees for hours worked can result in significant sanctions including fines and penalties, numerous lawsuits and the attendant litigation costs, alienation of employees, and bad press.
In a nutshell, although the U.S. has not yet passed a law that requires employers to limit the amount of time employees are tethered to work via their digital devices, all employees must be paid for all time spent working on the leash (and workers can sue if they aren’t paid for email checking). Prudent employers will have policies making sure nonexempt employees know to submit their time for after-hours emails and remind their exempt workers that emailing subordinates on the weekend could result in unanticipated overtime.