Wed | Jul 26, 2017

Laws of Eve | Are you always plugged in?

Published:Monday | January 9, 2017 | 1:00 AM

It is hard to believe that the smartphone, which has invaded every facet of our lives, was not always a part of it. But smartphones really emerged less than 20 years ago. In fact, the BlackBerry or 'Crackberry' era reached fever pitch about 10 years ago.

The swift evolution of our over-reliance on smartphones and the desperate need to be connected did not only affect us socially, it transformed the concept of the workplace. The smartphone became the virtual office and (effectively) expanded employees' work hours. Not only are doctors given beepers to respond to emergencies, many ordinary (even non-essential) workers receive smartphones as a part of their employment package on condition that they always remain accessible.

Well, one country - France - recently acknowledged that always being plugged in is not desirable. On January 1, 2017, the French Government took a bold step to regulate the use of the invasive digital devices that have blurred the lines between the personal and professional lives of workers.

Here are some of the observations that preceded the enactment of the legislation:

- It is beneficial for people to not work all the time.

- Workers should have the right to draw the line when employers' demands intrude on time at home or on vacation and time spent with family and friends.

- The fact that workers receive work emails on their phones makes them feel compelled to answer those emails even when there is no need to reply.

- Workers tend to check emails out of curiosity or lack the willpower to ignore unopened emails.

- Workers check personal emails at the office because there is no clear demarcation between work and personal time.

- Workers returned to work exhausted from the weekend or vacation.

According to an article on New York times.com: "The new provision in the [French] labour law does not ban work-related emails, but does require that companies with more than 50 employees negotiate a new protocol to ensure that work does not spill into days off or after-work hours." In reliance on this law, employees whose rights are breached will be entitled to sue their employers.

The appropriate protocol is not expected to be uniform among all companies, but below are two examples:

- Avoid the 'reply all' function on emails so that only one person is asked to read an email and respond, rather than an entire group.

- Setting a time each evening after which employees are not expected to reply, such as the hours between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.

According to time.com, France is not the only country in which attempts are being make to correct the work-life imbalance. For example, in Japan, municipal workers are forced to stop working by 8 p.m., and in Germany, managers are forbidden by law from contacting staff while they are on vacation.

For every burnt-out Jamaican worker who just wondered whether relocating to France, Germany or Japan might be viable options, perhaps our Ministry of Labour might consider whether there is justification for enacting similar legislation in Jamaica.

- Sherry Ann McGregor is a partner and mediator in the firm of Nunes Scholefield DeLeon & Co. Please send questions and comments to lawsofeve@gmail.com or lifestyle@gleanerjm.com.