Right to Disconnect: New Right for French Employees?

right to disconnect FranceA new law, called El Khomri law, passed on August 8th, 2016 in France providing a right to disconnect for employees.

Such right is entered into force on January 1st, 2017

According to the law, it belongs to the employers and the unions to negotiate this new right to determine its modalities of application and of control. Such negotiation should take place in companies having at least 50 employees and should provide for the implementation of mechanisms of regulation regarding the use of the new technologies in order to ensure the compliance with rest times and holidays and the familial and personal life of the employees.

Should no agreement be reached with the unions defining the methods of implementation of the right to disconnect, the employer shall unilaterally elaborate, after having consulted the work’s council committee, a policy which shall need to provide for the training actions and sensitization to the use of digital tools.

However, the idea to enable an employee to disconnect completely outside of his working hours is not new in France.  In 2004, the French Supreme Court had already judged that an employee could not be dismissed for serious misconduct due to the fact that he had not responded to professional solicitations during his lunch break (Cass. Soc. February 17, 2004 n°01-45889).

Furthermore, several collective bargaining agreements applicable in different sectors of industry had already provided for a right to disconnect (e.g. Syntec).

If the title of this right seems simple, its exact nature questions.

Indeed, no legal definition of what is exactly the right to disconnect is given.

The right is generally described as a right for the employee to not be connected to a digital professional tool (email, smartphone…) during off-duty and vacation time.  However, it is not easy to impose the right to disconnect in a professional environment in which the “BYOD” concept has experienced a takeoff without precedent and which therefore has the consequence of dimming a little more the barrier between professional and private life.

However, by sending back to the collective negotiation, the El Khomri law leaves it to unions and employers to guarantee the efficiency of such a right in a manner that matches with the way the company operates.  This relative flexibility obliges them however to be imaginative and to find devices adapted to the nature of the functions occupied by the employees to the variety of the means of communication used, considering evidently the needs of each company.

As such, the right to disconnect is not uniform and can materialize itself in several ways:

  • by a reinforced information of the employees on the use of digital tools (e.g. avoiding to reply to all recipients or to send emails during the week-end or holidays),

  • by the implementation of training actions or sensitization to new technologies (e.g. reminding the employees that they should not send emails after 9.00 pm or the absence of obligation of the recipient to answer emails outside of regular hours),

  • more radically, by automatically redirecting the emails of the employees who are out of the office to an appropriate available employee or the interruption of the professional mailbox during evenings and weekends, or even during holidays.

The new law does not provide for any sanction in case of noncompliance, however, companies should take into consideration that employers failing to implement it will likely be sanctioned by judges on the basis of the necessity to preserve the health and safety of the employees at the workplace as well as the necessity to comply with working time regulations.

© 2017 Proskauer Rose LLP.

French Supreme Court Specifies Requirements for Health Care Companies Under the Sunshine Act

McDermott Will & Emery

Law no. 2011-2012 of 29 December 2011, also known as the French Sunshine Act, introduced into French law disclosure obligations imposed on health care companies (HCC).  The French Medical Board and a nonprofit organisation challenged the law’s implementing decree of 21 May 2013 and its explanatory circular of 29 May 2013.  On 24 February 2015, the Conseil d’Etat annulled some of the challenged provisions of the aforementioned decree and circular, and provided useful clarifications on the scope of the disclosure obligations.

Pursuant to the decree of 21 May 2013 and the explanatory circular of 29 May 2013, there were three exceptions to the obligation to disclose (i) benefits in kind or cash exceeding EUR10 and (ii) written agreements:

  • Payments made as reasonable compensation for services rendered and for salaries did not have to be disclosed.

  • Companies that manufacture or commercialise cosmetic and tattoo products did not have to disclose agreements other than those relating to the conduct of health and safety work assessments and biomedical or observation research on these products.

  • Companies that manufacture or commercialise health products did not have to disclose commercial sales agreements of goods and services.

Under the Conseil d’Etat decision of 24 February 2015, the two first exceptions no longer apply, and the scope of the third exception has been specified.  The three main changes entailed by this decision are described herein.

All payments made from 1 January 2012 by HCCs to HCPs that do not constitute salaries must be disclosed.

The Conseil d’Etat specified the limits of the concept of “benefit in cash or in kind” that must be disclosed.  The 2013 explanatory circular had given a narrow definition of this concept, stating that it excluded payment made as reasonable compensation for services rendered and for salaries.

According to the Conseil d’Etat, however, the provisions of Law no 2011-2012 exclude only salaries received by health care professionals (HCPs) working exclusively as employees of HCCs.  According to the words of the General Advocate (Rapporteur Public) before the Conseil d’Etat, the exclusion relates to an “HCP who works exclusively as an employee in a HCC.”

Consequently, the Conseil d’Etat annulled the provisions of the explanatory circular which disregarded both Law no. 2011-2012 and the decree of 21 May 2013 by excluding from the scope of the disclosure obligations payment made as reasonable compensation for services rendered.

Companies manufacturing or distributing non-corrective contact lenses, cosmetic or tattoo products must disclose all agreements concluded with French HCPs, regardless of the object of the agreement.

With regard to companies manufacturing or distributing non-corrective contact lenses, cosmetic or tattoo products, the decree limited the scope of the disclosure obligations to agreements concluded with HCPs relating to the conduct of health and safety work assessments and biomedical or observation research on the products.

The Conseil d’Etat stated that by limiting the scope of the disclosure obligations, the decree disregarded the provisions of Law no. 2011-2012, and therefore annulled the regulatory provisions at stake.

The only commercial sales agreements of goods and services that are excluded from the disclosure obligations are those in which the HCP is the buyer.

The Conseil d’Etat clarified the content of Article R. 1453-2 of the French Code of Public Health, which excluded from the disclosure obligations commercial sales agreements of goods and services.  Even though this article was explained in the circular, it remained unclear which agreements it really targeted.

According to the judges, this exemption concerns solely commercial sales agreements of goods and services in which the HCP is the buyer.  Furthermore, despite the rather unclear wording of Conseil’s decision, it must be noted that, in light of the words of the General Advocate, the decision clarified that this exemption does not apply to purchase of advertising space by HCCs in medical journals.

Conclusions

Since the Conseil d’Etat did not time-differentiate the effects of its decision, its 24 February 2015 interpretation of the Sunshine Act is deemed to apply to all conventions concluded and benefits paid from 1 January 2012.  Therefore, HCCs should now disclose the following:

  • All payments made from 1 January 2012 by HCCs to HCPs for services rendered that do not constitute salaries

  • All agreements concluded from 1 January 2012 between companies manufacturing or distributing non-corrective contact lenses, cosmetic or tattoo products and French HCPs

  • Commercial sales agreements of goods and services in which the HCP is not the buyer

In accordance with the principle of legal certainty, HCCs should be given reasonable and sufficient time to adapt to the regulation as interpreted by the Conseil d’Etat, during which period of time they should not be sanctioned.

What To Look For Down The Road: France

Sheppard Mullin 2012

There is some legislation being debated in the French Parliament.  One piece of legislation would encourage fathers to take leave to care for their children.  The goal would be to curb the systemic disadvantages that women experience in their careers due to motherhood.

Another bill has been introduced with the goal of reforming the system of continuing vocational training, which could have major financial implications.  The bill provides for the creation of a so-called “individual learning account” in which rights to training hours earned each year would accumulate, within a total limit of 150 hours.  The account would not be related to the company: it would be personal and “follow” the employee throughout his/her entire working life.

 Article by:

Terese M. Connolly

Of:

Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP