France - United Kingdom

No, it's not illegal to work after 6pm in France

If it's the boss, don't answer ... but only if your one 250,000 workers covered by the agreement
If it's the boss, don't answer ... but only if your one 250,000 workers covered by the agreement Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

Rumours that it is now illegal to work after 6pm in France are greatly exaggerated. An article in the Guardian newspaper has set British media all aflutter by implying that workers have been banned from consulting their bosses' emails when they're not at work. And it has prompted a reply in France's poshest paper.


In a light-hearted blog article in the paper's G2 section this week, Guardian writer Lucy Mangan cited a report in French business daily Les Echos of an agreement between bosses and unions in the digital and consulting sector that employees would not look at their bosses' attempts to communicate outside working hours "even on their smartphones".

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"When the French clock off at 6pm, they really mean it," ran the headlines and Chinese whispers on websites and social media soon transformed that into "France makes work beyond 6pm illegal".

That was enough for the notoriously sensationalist, right-wing and very popular Daily Mail to pitch in.

The agreement "confirms President François Hollande’s country as arguably the laziest in Europe", it stormed, with a characteristically adroit choice of adverb, explaining that Hollande's low showing in opinion polls is "mainly because of his disastrous economic policies".

On Friday the brouhaha crossed the Channel, ruffling the feathers of the very serious Le Monde, which set its crack "décodeurs" team onto the case.

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The deal is not a law, Le Monde explained, but an agreement between trade unions and an employers' association concerning 200,000-250,000 an engineers and consultants who work by the day, rather than the standard French 35-hour week.

Like all such agreements in France it can be enforced by industrial tribunals, allowing the Daily Mail and the Guardian to describe it as "legally binding".

Some of the nuances of the English language, or perhaps l'humour anglais, seem to have escaped Le Monde's decoders, however.

They quoted Mangan's generally admiring piece as saying that the French "have now just made it illegal to work after 6pm" but omitted to translate the next line: "Well, sort of."

And they translated Mangan's "whatever" as "ce que", rendering "whatever the French call la dolce vita" as "what the French call la dolce vita (in Italian in the text)".

As RFI's staff can testify, it is definitely not illegal for French employees to work after 6pm, before 9pm, at weekends or on public holidays, although, as elswhere, they are compensated for unusual working hours.

We do it all the time as part of our efforts to bring you the news, analysis and commentary that fills our radio broadcasts and website.

Read also: Are the French a bunch of lazy slackers?

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