Should Ireland follow France and consider banning work emails outside office hours?

The proposed legislation is aimed at helping workers achieve a better work/life balance...

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File photo. Image: Lauren Hurley / PA Wire/Press Association Images

France looks set to pass a new law giving employees the right to ignore work emails outside of their contracted hours.

The ‘right to disconnect’ is being spearheaded by President Francois Hollande's Socialist Party in an attempt to help workers achieve a better work/life balance.  

The new rules will apply to companies with more than 50 employees. The affected companies will be obliged to bring in a policy stating out the hours during which workers are not meant to read or respond to emails.

Dr Ciaran McMahon, Director of the Institute of Cyber Security, says that while it's a policy that companies are going to have to have, "companies that don't have it - there's no penalty around it. So it is very loose at the moment - it's more of an obligation or honour code".

The French plans come alongside other efforts around Europe to improve employee well-being, such as Sweden's attempts to move towards a standard six-hour work day.

Would it be worthwhile introducing legislation here in Ireland on work emails outside work hours?

Dr McMahon spoke to Newstalk Breakfast about some of the benefits and drawbacks of the proposed French legislation, and some of the challenges that would be involved in implementing it.

He explained that reading and answering work emails at home can become a problem "when it stands to impinge on family life - when people are at home, and should be spending time with their children or with their spouses, and instead are tied to their iPhone looking at their work email".

He suggested that "the thing about this is there's going to be so many exceptions to this. For example, multi-nationals who work with people who work in different time zones, how do you figure this out if you have to be ready for a Skype call at 4am or respond to things in the middle of the night?"

Dr McMahon also suggested that while the laws are being introduced with employee well-being in mind, "you have to look at it in another way. If you're at home and answering emails on an iPad... is this an approved workplace piece of technology? Has it been security audited?

"If somebody is at home sending important emails while they're watching the TV, while they're having a glass of wine [...] are they doing their best work? Are they going to make mistakes?"