After-hours work emails can be stressful to deal with.
The old saying is, “don’t take your work home with you.” But the new reality for many people is that work follows you home in the form of emails, text messages, and social media.
New York City Council member Rafael Espinal Jr. has introduced a bill which would make it illegal for businesses to require that employees check their email or other electronic communication during non-work hours.
If an employer breaks the rule, they’d be fined $250 and required to pay an additional $500 to their employee.
The “Disconnecting From Work” bill also includes days in which an employee is out on vacation, sick days, or personal days off.
“There’s a lot of New Yorkers out there that don’t know when their work day begins or when their work day ends, because we’re all so tied to our phones,” Espinal said.
“You can still work, you can still talk to your boss, but this just is saying that, when you feel like you’ve hit your boiling point and you can’t do it anymore, you’re able to disconnect and decompress for a while.”
France passed a similar law and other countries are following their lead.
France made international headlines with its own “right to disconnect” law in 2017. They have a very different work culture than the United States, with a mandatory 35 hour work week ceiling in most professions, and workers receiving an average of 31 paid vacation days each year.
One French lawmaker described the law as a necessary move to combat “info-obesity.”
Italy’s Senate approved similar legislation last year, and many German companies, including Volkswagen, have voluntarily instituted similar policies, where their company servers automatically shut down outgoing emails between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. each day.
This isn’t a pipe dream. Espinal has sponsored other eye-catching bills that became law.
Before you laugh off Espinal’s bill as unrealistic, consider one other piece of legislation he’s already successfully helped make a reality.
His “Office of Nightlife” proposal was signed into effect by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, creating a $130,000 position for former club owner Ariel Palitz, who now oversees a 12-person committee with a $300,000 annual budget dedicated to addressing the city’s “nightlife issues.”
As with that proposal, Espinal says his “right to disconnect” bill will actually be good both for the mental health of workers, and for the city’s economy.
“Studies have shown that if employee disconnect, whether it’s from the internet, leaving the office, take some time off and go back to work the next day and do a better job,” he said. “This is great for business, this is great for the employers.”
A healthy work/life balance is important, and some people might need a legal intervention to get there.
Critics of “right to disconnect” laws say that such changes alone cannot change a work culture that is increasingly shifting toward an “always on” mindset.
And they have a point.
Much of that responsibility rests with managers and everyday workers to embrace a culture of trust where both sides believe the best work is done when someone is well-rested and healthy.
But Espinal’s proposal is at least a start to help bring attention to the larger issue, and there’s no better place to start than in “the city that never sleeps.”