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Lawmaker Proposes Bill To Fine Employers Who Contact Employees After Work Hours

Do you feel a duty to answer every after-hours email from your job?

Sometimes our jobs can creep past our designated work hours and cut into our time with friends and family. Lots of people feel like they have to be “always connected” in order to show they care about their work. Now lawmakers in New York City want to protect employees who don’t want to always be tethered to their email after-hours.

City Councilman Rafael Espinal, Jr. introduced a bill on March 22  protecting employees of privates business with at least 10 workers from retaliation if they do not check or respond to any after-hours calls, emails or messages.

Any businesses found to be in violation of the law — that is, penalizing employees for not responding — would be fined $500 for the first offense, with an increased fee for any additional violations within the following two years, according to NBC New York.

Thousands of businesses and millions of workers are based in NYC, so if it passes, this could be a game-changer in favor of a more forgiving work-life balance. Imagine being able to disconnect from the office at the end of the work day and focus entirely on your family and your interests!

Along with Espinal, the bill was co-sponsored by Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuel. According to the text of the bill, its ultimate goal is to help “private employees disconnecting from electronic communications during non-work hours.” However, it would not apply to government employees or workers who are on-call, such as hospital staff.

Sounds like a worthy goal — for overworked employees, at least.

If passed, the law wouldn’t be the first in the world to regulate how bosses are able to communicate with their employees after business hours. In 2011, Volkswagen in Germany became a pioneer in the movement to widen the gap between work and life by agreeing to deactivate its company email servers for staff-level employees after work hours.

Volkswagen decided its workers would only receive work emails from 30 minutes before their shift started until 30 minutes after their shift ended. On weekends, staffers receive no company emails at all.

In the wake of Volkswagen’s move, other German companies, including automaker BMW, also implemented measures that allow employees to unplug.

volkswagen factory photo
Getty Images | Adam Berry

Last year, France took perhaps the boldest step of any country toward disconnecting employees from their work duties while at home. Legislators passed a national law establishing a “right to disconnect” for employees, by requiring all companies with at least 50 employees to establish hours when staff should not send or answer emails.

According to Slate, NYC’s proposed law also allows a loophole for companies to potentially exploit by allowing them to define some after-hours situations as ones that need to be dealt with “immediately,” therefore still allowing them to pester employees after work.

If NYC passes this law, it could potentially become a trend across the United States. Would you like to see this policy in action where you live?