As technology advances, so too does our ability to stay connected. From the palm of our hand, we can communicate with almost anyone across the globe or complete transactions of any type. However, this level of connectivity comes with a price, especially in relation to employment hours.
With the modern tools now at our disposal, the boundary between work and home life has become increasingly smaller. One can refresh their email or check their company Slack after hours, on the weekend, or even on vacation. In some cases, checking an email and responding the second it comes in may be more efficient than keeping it for the next morning. Or, if you are running up against a deadline, the ability to work on the go can provide some much-needed flexibility. However, the question becomes, do you have the obligation to respond on the spot, even if you have the ability?
A Proposed Human Right
As the name implies, the Right to Disconnect is a proposed human right that allows employees to disconnect from their work and willingly not engage in work related activities during non-work hours. Although this may not seem like a common issue, one survey found that almost 60% of employees use their smart phone to work after normal business hours and certain professionals report interacting with their phone for 13.5 hours every work day. Not only is this unhealthy from both a physical and psychological standpoint, in certain cases, employees who do not put in additional time off the clock may face retaliation or punishment for not promptly responding.
The first country on record to recognize this as an issue was France. As of January 1, 2017, French law requires companies inside the country to stop encroaching on their workers personal and family time. The law requires companies with 50 or more employees to negotiate a rule for limiting off hour communication. Some companies have even gone so far as to shut down their email systems overnight to enforce these rules.
In the United States
Now, almost two years later, this trend is making its way through the United States in a place known for workaholics and a lack of sleep – New York City. Proposed by the New York City Council, the “right to disconnect” bill would apply to private businesses with at least 10 employees and employees who are not on call. In effect, the bill would:
- Outlaw the requirement of employees or staff to check or respond to work related communication after hours except in cases of emergency.
- Require that employers give written notice to employees of their rights under the law.
- Protect employees from retaliation for exercising their right to disconnect.
For breaking the law, employers would face fines that would escalate in severity for each offense. This bill would be the first of its kind in the United States and would apply to a city that has one of the longest work weeks in the country at an average of 49.08 hours including the commute.
The effects of working too many hours are well documented. Employees face burnout, chronic stress, lack of sleep, and decreased performance. According to some injury attorneys, employees who work overtime are more likely to suffer physical injuries than those who do not work overtime, a 61% higher injury hazard in fact. Especially in a place like New York City, mental and emotional exhaustion can easily manifest itself into physical injuries. With increased noise pollution and traffic, one mental slip up can lead to a serious accident or injury. Just read this one account of living in New York City for a better idea of coping with stress in the Big Apple.
Setting an Example
Although not a new concept, the push for the right to disconnect could not have come at a better time as we become increasingly tethered to our devices. According to Rafael Espinal Jr., the City Councilman who proposed the bill, he has already received many calls and messages in support. It seems fitting that “the city that never sleeps” would lead the way in terms of employees’ rights off the clock and hopefully sets an example for the rest of the country to follow.