French workers will be guaranteed the right to disconnect from electronic devices, under employment law that comes into effect as of January 1. Under the new law, organisations with more than 50 employees must define rights of workers to be able to ignore their smartphones outside of working hours.

The law is intended to crack down on out-of-office working as employees check in on emails delivered to smartphones and tablets which has led to an increase in unpaid overtime across many sectors. However, the rights of employees must be negotiated between workers with their individual firms.

Negotiations are aimed at defining the extent to which work may intrude into their private lives, thus offering flexibility of digital technology as well as limitations on its use. A French workplace expert, Xavier Zunigo told the Guardian that employers did not want to "lose the autonomy and flexibility" smart technology afforded them.

While French trade unions have sought to protect France's 35-hour working week against pressure from the advent of advances in communications technology, there were no sanctions anticipated for companies that failed to define terms with staff.

The new law is one of a set of labour laws to be introduced in May, though others were not as well received. One of the laws made it easier to hire and fire workers.

The move comes as an increasing number of reports emerge about internet addiction and the stresses of constant connectivity on life. Apart from what has been perceived as a creeping abuse of digital technology by companies, which has seen something of an expectation that work-related communications will be dealt with outside office hours, many more concerns have been raised regarding overuse of smartphones.

Psychology have issued recent warnings about the compulsive nature of social media, now readily accessed via smartphones. Experts have even found links between social media usage and depression, as well as mobile phone use and insomnia.

France labour reforms
The move is part of a set of new French labour laws, not all of which were welcomed. Thomas Samson/ AFP