Will New York City Give Workers the "Right to Disconnect"?

Smartphones and laptops allow us to work anywhere and anytime we choose. On the flip side, these devices also make it possible for your employer to contact you even when you are not working. One New York City council member recently proposed a change to local employment law that would give workers the “right to disconnect” from work-related electronic communications when they are officially off the clock.

Brooklyn Councilor Proposes Limits on Employer Emails and Texts After Working Hours

Int. 726-2018 was introduced on March 22 by Brooklyn council member Rafael L. Espinal Jr. As introduced, the measure would make it illegal “for any employer to require an employee to access work-related electronic communications outside of such employee’s usual work hours, not including overtime, except in cases of emergency.” This would include sending an employee emails, text messages, or any other “digital means of conveying data electronically,” such as group chat software or even social media accounts.

The measure proposes to cover all private businesses with at least 10 employees. The employer itself would be required to “adopt a written policy” regarding the use of electronic communications for work-related matters “during non-work hours.” The policy must clearly state the “usual work hours” for employees and explain that non-work hours include any vacation days or other paid time off. The employer would also need to provide new employees with written notice of their rights under the “right to disconnect” law in their “primary language.”

Espinal's measure would not apply to government employees, emergency workers, or anyone required “to be on call 24 hours a day on days when they are working.” Nor would it cover persons in work-study programs or independent contractors who are not normally considered employees under the law.

As with many existing employee rights laws, Int. 726-2018 would expressly forbid employer “retaliation” against employees. In other words, an employer may not discipline or terminate a worker who files a complaint alleging a violation of the law. Obviously, an employer would also not be allowed to interfere with any official City investigation into said alleged violations.

Potential penalties outlined in the “right to disconnect” proposal include a $50 fine for each employee not given the requisite notice of their rights, $250 for every “instance of an employee being required to access work-related electronic communications outside of the standard work hours,” and $2,500 for retaliatory discharge. The latter fine would be in addition to any separate damages owed to the employee for lost wages and benefits.

It is unclear at this early stage whether the City Council will adopt Int. 726-2018. But if it does, New York City would not be the first jurisdiction to incorporate a “right to disconnect” into its labor laws. Espinal modeled his proposal on a nationwide law that took effect in France in January 2017. According to the BBC, that law applies to all French businesses with more than 50 employees.

Speak With a New York employment attorney Today

Even if the City decides not to adopt this particular proposal, there are a number of other local laws that govern your rights in the workplace. If your employer has violated any of them, you should speak with a New York employment attorney as soon as possible. If you require immediate assistance, contact the Law Offices of Nisar Law Group, P.C., at 646.760.6493 today.


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