BBC Capital

The world's strangest work laws

  • Because the law says so, not just mom

    A law that requires children to help with household chores and respect their parents? In Spain, it could become reality.

    A draft law set before Parliament last month would mandate just that. Extreme? Perhaps. But it’s doubtful many parents complaining — and it might not be so far-fetched. After all, Spain’s husbands already have legal obligations to do chores and help with childcare.

    Spain certainly isn’t the only country to adopt or consider such unusual measures. Here’s a closer look at the Spanish law as well as some other surprising work–related rules and norms that have come into force around the globe in the last few years, including cutting off after-hour email and measuring employee waistlines. Click through the images above to read about the others.

    The measure in Spain that would require kids to help out around the house is currently just a draft law, but it lists the responsibilities and obligations of children to include “participating in family life, respecting their parents and siblings” and “co-responsibility in caring for the home and performing household chores according to their age and regardless of their gender."

    No punishments or penalties are listed for failing to comply, though. Montse Reguera, a teacher in Madrid and parent, said the section of the draft law regarding chores and respect made her laugh when she read about it and that she thinks it’s unnecessary. “As any other families in the world, Spanish families have their own rules, unwritten moral rules and private rules that children learn as they grow up,” she said.

    Husbands in Spain already have legal language holding them accountable for housework. A 2005 addendum to the marriage contract used in Spanish civil ceremonies stipulates men are required to shoulder household duties, as well as help care for children and elderly family members. (Thinkstock)

  • Working 9-5, and that’s that

    Germany has always been respected for its relentless work ethic, but lately the resounding message within the country has been that employees can and should check out from work more.

    At the end of March, Germany’s labour ministry enacted a measure banning its managers from contacting staff outside work hours, except under “exceptional circumstances,” which was understood to be emergencies. The reasoning was that employees should protect themselves against “self-exploitation.”

    The law follows the lead of companies such as automaker giant Volkswagen’s lead. In 2011, Volkswagen deactivated BlackBerry email after work hours for employees working under trade union contracts.

    German Anne Goldmann works for a multinational technology company that doesn’t put restrictions on work email hours. She says she prefers because it allows her to work more around her own schedule.

    “To encourage someone to unplug is important, but it’s not helpful to set a time limit,” she said. “I love to unplug during work hours and go to the gym when I feel exhausted. Afterwards I am more productive and sometimes stay a bit longer to make up for the time I lost during the day.”

    (Getty Images)

  • Pulling out the tape measure

    In an effort to preserve the health of its overwhelmingly greying populace, Japan enacted law in 2008 that set a maximum waistline size for everyone aged 40-75.

    Employees’ waistlines are measured in an annual medical exam that also evaluates factors like blood pressure and cholesterol to ensure they are healthy, or more specifically, not “metabo.” Metabo is the choice synonym for overweight in Japan and refers to metabolic syndrome, the term for a cluster of health risks including like stomach fat and high cholesterol.

    Employees identified as metabo are given required counselling to help them lose weight. The employers also are marked: Those that didn’t reduce their metabo employees 10% by 2012 had to contribute more to a national healthcare program for the elderly. By 2015, the employers have to show that they cut that number by 25% or face the same penalty.

    Zhongmin Guo, who recently moved back to the US after working in Japan for 14 years, said as an employee he was “subject to annual and very thorough health checks,” which included having to drink a thick, white liquid for a stomach X-ray.

    “Overall, I find the Japan health system efficient, like a factory,” he said. “Doctors don’t like patients asking them questions or question their judgment. Doctors are treated as sensei (master).”

    (UIG/Getty Images)

  • Forbidding after-hour work email

    The French are perhaps equal parts admired and chided for their laissez-faire demeanour, particularly when it comes to work. When news broke last month about new legislation purportedly banning work-related email after 18:00, it was met with echoes of “of course”— some tinged with judgment and others with jealousy.

    The law was widely misreported, however. Only independent workers, whose workdays are not legally capped at the country’s 10 hours-per-day maximum, are required to tune out after hours.

    Aurelien Bruno, an engineer based in Nice, France, said it was another opportunity for people to accuse the French of being “lazy.”

    “I think France often is misunderstood,” he said, referring to international perceptions of French work ethic.

    Indeed, BBC Capital recently found that the 35-hour French workweek is largely a myth. (Thinkstock)

  • Skipping a break, unprotected

    And while making sure employees measure up in the physical sense might seem like a regulatory step too far, sometimes a lack of regulation can be just as disconcerting. The US, for example, employers technically are not required to provide vacation time, paid sick leave or even lunch breaks.

    While one hopes employers aren’t depriving their workers of a chance to eat, none is actually required by law to permit them to do so. Paid vacation time also is a cushy perk in the US, in strong contrast to countries like Brazil, where a month off is guaranteed to all labourers. While most white-collar employers offer compensated time off in an effort to woo and keep top job candidates, many other workers miss out entirely.

    “The US does not have any mandated paid time off and that’s very different from the rest of the world,” said Julie Stich, ‎research director at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit. “Being overworked and stressed can lead to burnout and affect you mentally and physically, causing all sorts of things like insomnia and mental health issues. It’s definitely important to take time away.”

    (Boston Globe/Getty Images)