New legislation in France around set hours for responding to work emails is something New Zealand should consider, says the Council of Trade Unions.

On Sunday the new law came into force in France stating that companies with more than 50 employees have to negotiate and set out hours for when staff are, and are not required to check their emails or respond to work enquiries.

The legislation was aimed at setting clear lines for work time and personal time and is part of a number of new labour laws passed last year.

Although the law is one of the first of its kind, Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff said it showed a broader issue.


"What's happened in France reflects a growing global concern about the intrusion of work into peoples 'out of work' time that digital technology creates," Wagstaff said.

"So certainly we think that is a real issue in New Zealand, like it is in many countries and developed countries especially, and we do think it's something that's worth trying to address," he said.

France has employed a 35-hour working week since 2000 however concerns over the hidden hours of work where staff felt they needed to check and respond to emails, even outside work hours, led to the new laws being introduced.

Companies will have time to comply with the laws voluntarily and for now there are no penalties for violating it.

Business New Zealand chief executive Kirk Hope said although it was an issue in New Zealand, a law change would not necessarily help.

"Even the proponents of the law in France accept that it is probably unworkable, so we wouldn't support something like that in New Zealand," Hope said.

"However that doesn't mean that managing work related stresses including those created by an environment in which employees feel they are unable to "switch off" isn't already being addressed here."

Hope said under the health component of health and safety law in New Zealand, businesses should already be thinking about what processes they had in place to help manage employee stress.


He said this could include enabling staff to switch off by having email free periods.

Wagstaff said the issue was a growing one as more people had digital devices and could be reached outside of work.

He said the increasing pressure on people to keep an eye on their phones and laptops meant people were not having time away from work.

What's happened in France reflects a growing global concern about the intrusion of work into peoples 'out of work' time that digital technology creates.

"We should have a discussion about it because getting away from work and having a break is good for you, and it's obviously good for your mental capacity and for spending time with your family, and we should protect those things," Wagstaff said.

"Employers shouldn't expect people to keep their phones on or to check messages when they're not at work," he said.

"If they do, they're really saying you're on call - and usually you get paid for that."