Heard the one about France banning digital workers from accessing their work emails after 6pm? No, it’s not a joke… but it’s not strictly true either.

Last week the internet and the newspapers were awash with the news that a new legally-binding agreement had come into place in France which means employers must encourage staff to “disconnect” outside of working hours and digital workers must ignore their bosses’ emails once they get home and away from the office – or face legal action.

Now, The Guardian and a number of other major news outlets published the story, claiming the French were leading the way with the smartphone disconnect – before the French media pointed out that the facts had been majorly misinterpreted.

So, what’s the real story? Well, it turns out that France’s administrative court recently ruled that tech workers’ rights to health and rest weren’t sufficiently protected by existing laws – and the issue of course was smartphones.

email banA 35 hour working work was brought in in France in 1988, with any additional hours worked being classed as overtime – and of course the fear now is that smartphones are making it impossible to actually implement these working hours and evaluate how many hours employees are actually clocking up each week.

Following on the ruling, French businesses and France’s tech association did sign an agreement in which they vowed to make it possible for their staff to “disconnect” from work emails and calls out of working hours to ensure employees had the minimum rest time away from work as required by French law.

The deal should affect around 250,000 employees directly in the technology and consultancy sector (the unions involved in the deal represent around one million workers) – but here’s where it gets interesting.

As part of the deal there’s no mention of a post-6pm ban (an entitlement of 11 hours away from work is all that’s mentioned) – and there’s no mention of employees having to enforce this policy – in fact they just have to make a “disconnect” “possible”.

What’s more, there’s no legal requirement on the employees’ part to comply either. Yes, they’ll probably be encouraged by their employers to switch off but that doesn’t mean they will – all the deal means is that they won’t get into trouble if they fail to reply to an email or call out of work hours.

Now, while it’s fair to say that the reporting of this deal hasn’t been handled as well as it could have been, it’s certainly raised interesting questions and concerns about how mobile devices are impacting the way we work – and more worryingly the amount we work.

From personal experience, I know that when a work email pops up on my smartphone when I’m at home away from work I’m going to have a look at what it is (mostly because I’m insanely nosy and curious) – and if necessary, I’m going to reply and maybe even make some changes to Bubble if necessary. Why? Because I’m passionate about my job – and if something needs doing to the site or for a client asap, if I have time, I’ll always do it. And I know I’m not alone.

An article featured in The Telegraph in 2012 suggested smartphones can add two hours onto the average working day, with over two thirds of respondents in the survey admitting to checking their email as soon as they wake up and just before they go to bed.

With stats like that, it seems unrealistic that a ban on accessing work emails out of hours could ever work – and I’m inclined to agree.

The thing is; with some jobs, the idea of being “disconnected” from work is simply unfeasible – and while the idea of encouraging employees to switch off when they leave work is nice in theory, for many that’s just not an option – especially if they work in the digital sector where things are constantly changing and failing to keep up is just not an option.

The main reason I think a law banning us from our work emails after 6pm will never work? The internet doesn’t switch off when you leave the office – it doesn’t put in a 9-5 day and then go home – it’s available all the time, which means as digital workers, there’s no way we can switch off either. Yes, I agree that the amount of time we’re “connected” isn’t necessarily healthy, however I’m just not sure a ban or limit could ever successfully implemented – not for the foreseeable future anyway.

As with all controversial topics, I’m keen to hear what you think on this one. Do you think France are onto something by trying to encourage their tech workers to “disconnect” or do you think it’s simply an unfeasible idea which will never truly be successfully implemented? Leave me a comment below or tweet me – @amy_edwards88.