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In France, some workers win right to unplug after work

France has given American workers another reason to feel overworked.

One complaint of modern working life is the impossibility of actually leaving work. Given the ubiquity of smartphones, wifi and Internet connections, reading your boss' email is always just one click away.

But a new labor agreement in France is providing some protections for those most likely to find it difficult to check out after work: more than 300,000 tech-sector workers at companies such as Google and Facebook, The Associated Press notes. Under the pact, workers with flexible shifts, such as consultants, have the right to disconnect if they're at risk of burning out.

Given France's 35-hour workweek and mandated 30 annual vacation days, the country has the reputation among Americans of being either a worker's paradise or a socialist's nightmare. It's not likely that this newest twist to France's labor regulations will change any of those views, even though employers' groups who signed the deal are trying to play down reports that the agreement bans email after 6 p.m. Instead, the deal requires that employees receive 11 hours of daily uninterrupted "rest" time.

"The image of the 'frogs' who don't get anything done, who just take vacations -- that's not what this is about at all," Max Balensi, an official with one of the employers' groups, told The New York Times.

While the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper reported the agreement would make it illegal to check into work after 6 p.m., that is "disinformation," Balensi said. Instead, the agreement affects consultants and tech workers whose contracts don't specify daily working hours, and so is meant to ensure "safeguards" by giving them the right to unplug, a spokeswoman for another employers' group told The Times.

"If someone is in a dangerous situation of overwork, this allows them to say 'no'," a union official told The AP. "This doesn't forbid someone from taking a USB key from the office and working at home."

Meanwhile, Americans not only get less vacation time than most Europeans, but they often fail to take all their guaranteed days. Fear of getting laid off, as well as concern that no other employee can do their job, are among the motivations driving American workaholism, according to a Glassdoor survey. And when Americans do take vacations, almost two-thirds work during their time off.

For the French, though, the concern is that overwork could hurt businesses, with Balensi noting, "If you don't have employees who are in good health, your competitiveness is going to fall."

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