Not Answering Emails After Work Could Soon Be a Legal Right

Imagine a life where you leave work or shut your laptop (for the many, many of us who work remotely) and that officially marked the end of your workday — where you don’t feel pressured to answer the emails that come through after 6 p.m. Sounds like pure heaven, right? What a freeing feeling that would be.

For those living in New York City, though, it could become reality.

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According to Apartment Therapy, Brooklyn city council member Rafael Espinal proposed a bill on March 22 called Disconnect From Work, which would make unplugging from your job after hours a right. And if this proposed bill passes, it would make NYC the first city in the United States to enact such a law.

The bill — which would make it illegal for employers with more than 10 employees to require employees to access work-related electronic communications such as emails, text messages and instant messenger services outside of normal work hours — is modeled after a similar law in France, which bans electronic communications to employees after 6 p.m. for companies with more than 50 employees.

According to the Labor & Employment Law blog, the bill would “require employers to adopt written policies regarding the use of electronic devices for sending or receiving work-related electronic communications.” However, some people would be exempt, including those who are required to be on-call 24 hours a day, those in work-study programs, employees compensated through scholarships and independent contractors.

If employers ignore and fail to comply with the law? The bill would enforce penalties, including “a $50 fine for each employee who does not receive proper notice of their right to disconnect; a $250 fine for each instance of requiring an employee to check electronic communications after work hours; and fines ranging between $500 and $2,500 for retaliating against employees for asserting their rights under the bill.”

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The fines seem high, but it’s due time. Disconnect From Work is a bill we need now more than ever. According to a survey by ReachMail 2017, more than half the 1,000 Americans who took part in the survey felt they received more email than they did three years ago, with millennials getting the most after-hours emails (62 percent of them). The most alarming stat? Those who are considered “inbox zero” practitioners — meaning they strive to keep their inbox at zero as often as possible — are more likely to check their email more than 25 times per day.

Plus, according to The Guardian, Australian National University recently found that working over 39 hours a week is a risk to one’s well-being. So, if we can reduce the amount of time checking emails, we’ll not only work to eliminate guilt we feel when we don’t check that email from our boss that comes in after 9 p.m., but also improve our mental and physical health. Let’s just hope this bill passes so all other places can follow suit.

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