The Right to Unplug? New York City Proposes Bill Allowing Employees to Disconnect Outside Work Hours

New York City Councilman, Rafael Espinal, has introduced the “Disconnecting from Work” bill, which will make it illegal for employers to email or text employees after work hours.

The bill will only apply to private businesses with 10 or more employees and, if passed, it will prevent employers from taking action against employees who fail to respond to electronic communications when they are off duty, on vacation or taking sick leave. However, the law will not affect employees who work overtime or are on call all day.

“I think that because of technology, the lines have been blurred on when the work day begins and when the work day ends, and there are employers who take advantage of that fact,” Espinal told Observer at City Hall on March 22. “So I think this is a win-win, not only for the employee but also for the employers because their employees, with that time… [they can] decompress, reduce anxiety and be able to perform better when they get to the work the next day.”

According to our 2018 data from National Day of Unplugging, we found that 25% of Americans strongly/somewhat agree that it’s “difficult to unplug because my boss is always on.” And nearly half (47%) strongly/somewhat agree that they wish their companies had digital detox policies restricting emails on the weekends. And more millennials (31%) than any other age group would take a pay cut to work at a company that enforced digital restrictions for employees (e.g., no emails on vacation, after 11pm, or on weekends).

Espinal’s proposed legislation is similar to a law passed in France in 2017 that requires businesses with 50 or more workers to negotiate after-hours email rules with their employees, essentially permitting employees to ignore communications outside work hours. Similar to France’s law, Espinal’s bill would require employers to “adopt a written policy regarding the use” of electronic devices for work-related communications during non-work hours.

Employers who violate the law would be subject to a fine of $250.