Right to disconnect from work after hours proposed in NYC

Should private employees be allowed to disconnect from electronic communications related to their job during non-work hours? That's a question being taken up by the New York City Council.

A so-called "Right to Disconnect" bill sponsored by Brooklyn councilman Rafael Espinal Jr. would make it unlawful for private employees in the city of New York to require an employee to check and respond to email, text messages and other electronic communications during non-work hours. Vacation days, personal days and sick days would also be covered under the bill.

"The lines between our work and personal lives have blurred," Espinal said. "My bill will simply protect employees from retaliation when they choose to disconnect."

Espinal modeled the legislation after a law that went into effect in France in 2017.

"Are we working to live or are we living to work?" Espinal said. "I think there are employers who have taken advantage of the fact that everyone is connected to their cell phones or their laptops and are able to continue answering correspondence 24 hours throughout their day."

​​The proposal covers any worker, full- or part-time, who works at least 80 hours in a calendar year at a business with more than 10 employees. A business could be fined $250 and up to $1,000 for repeat violations. The employee who is contacted could be due up to $250 from the company per incident.

The bill does grant an exemption in cases of "emergency" that could call for immediate action to avert harm.

The Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing is holding a hearing on the proposal on Thursday morning.  There are six other city council members who have signed on as co-sponsors.

The measure would actually exempt the city government from following the proposed law.