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Time to Put Down that Smartphone? – Proposed Bill Would Give NYC Employees a Right to Disconnect from Work

Given the ever-increasing reliance on digital technology, employees are more and more tethered to their smartphones – checking email during their commute, at the dinner table, and even from their beds – essentially creating a never-ending work day.  A bill filed by a New York City councilman aims to curtail this trend. The bill, introduced on March 22, 2018, would prohibit employers in the city of New York from requiring employees to check and respond to work-related electronic communications outside of usual work hours.

The proposed bill would make it unlawful for any employer with 10 or more employees to require an employee to access work-related electronic communications (i.e., email and texts) outside of such employee’s usual work hours, except in cases of emergency.  An “emergency” is broadly defined as a “sudden and serious event, or an unforeseen change in circumstances, that calls for immediate action to avert, control or remedy harm.”

A summary of other key provisions of the proposed bill are as follows:

 

  • The right to disconnect would not apply to independent contractors and employees who are required to be on call 24 hours a day.

 

  • Employers would be required to adopt written policies regarding the use of electronic work-related communications during work hours. The policies would need to include: (i) the usual work hours for each class of employee; and (ii) the categories of paid time off to which employees are entitled (such paid time off considered non-work hours).

 

  • Employers would be required to provide notice of their right to disconnect within 30 days of commencement of employment or, for existing employees, within 30 days of the effective date of the law. There would be a $50 civil penalty for each employee who did not receive notice.

 

  • For every instance an employee is required to access work-related electronic communications outside of work hours there would be a $250 penalty.

 

  • For each instance of unlawful discharge from employment there would be a $2,500 penalty.

 

We will continue to monitor the status of the bill and provide updates accordingly.

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Alexander K. Song is a Mintz Associate whose practice focuses on all aspects of executive compensation, including drafting of equity and incentive compensation plans and award agreements. Alex also handles employment, change-in-control, and severance arrangements for executive officers.