New York City Councilman Rafael Espinal has introduced a bill that would “make it unlawful for private employers in the city of New York to require employees to check and respond to email and other electronic communications during non-work hours.” The proposed law would apply to private organizations with more than ten employees and would fine violators $250 for each instance of noncompliance. The rationale behind the bill is to combat the high incidence of overwork among New York City residents, the New York Times’ Jonathan Wolfe notes:
The average New Yorker already works 49 hours and 8 minutes a week, longer than their counterparts in the next 29 largest cities in the U.S., according to a 2015 report by the city comptroller. And that’s not including hours spent emailing at home. A 2017 study found that, on average, workers spend an extra eight hours a week sending email after work. Research has also shown that people who responded to work communications after 9 p.m. had a worse quality of sleep and were less engaged the next day.
“When you don’t have recovery and time off, it leads to more stress and ultimately burnout and exhaustion,” said Larissa K. Barber, a professor of psychology at Northern Illinois University who conducts research on work-life balance and coined a term for the urge to respond: “telepressure.”
The law is modeled after the “right to disconnect” law that came into effect in France last year, which mandates that organizations of more than 50 people agree with their employees on hours when they are not required to perform online work tasks like checking email. Modern telecommunications indeed pose a challenge in terms of work-life balance, as employees who work at all hours run a greater risk of burnout and stress.
Measures as dramatic as legislative mandates, however, are not the only solution to this problem. Germany, for example, does not have a “right to disconnect” law, but major German companies like Volkswagen and Daimler have their own policies about not sending employees work messages when they are off the clock.
The prospects of Espinal’s bill in the Democrat-dominated city council are uncertain as of yet. Key figures in New York like Mayor Bill de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Council Speaker Corey Johnson have not taken public positions on it. Business groups in the city and state, however, have already lined up against it, calling it a burdensome and inflexible regulation, the Wall Street Journal reports. Helena Natt, executive director of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, told the Journal that at the very least, the bill would need to “refine the industries this can be applied to,” as restrictions on calling employees into work outside scheduled hours could hobble certain sectors such as hospitality.