September 16, 2019

September 16, 2019

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The Right to Unplug: New York City Council Proposes Bill Which Would Allow Employees to Disconnect From Work After Normal Work Hours

New York City Councilman Rafael Espinal has proposed a bill which would prohibit private-sector employers from requiring their employees to access work-related electronic communications outside of their usual work hours. This bill is modeled after a similar law in France. If passed, the bill would make New York City the first American city to enact such a law. A copy of the complete bill can be found here.

The bill, which was introduced to the New York City Council on March 22, 2018, 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. Additionally, the bill would require employers to adopt written policies regarding the use of electronic devices for sending or receiving work-related electronic communications. Such written policies must include: (i) the usual work hours for each class of employee; and (ii) the categories of paid time off (e.g., vacation days, personal days, etc.) to which employees are entitled. The bill would also require that employers provide employees with a notice of their right to disconnect from work-related electronic communications outside of normal work hours. While the bill would cover most employees, certain individuals would be exempt from its protections, including: (i) employees whose terms of employment require them to be on call 24 hours per day when working; (ii) employees in work study programs; (iii) employees compensated through scholarships; and (iv) independent contractors.

The bill proposes a number of penalties for employers who fail to comply with its provisions, including: (i) a $50 fine for each employee who does not receive proper notice of their right to disconnect; (ii) a $250 fine for each instance of requiring an employee to check electronic communications after work hours; and (iii) fines ranging between $500 and $2,500 for retaliating against employees for asserting their rights under the bill.

While New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, and New York City Council Speaker, Cory Johnson, have not publicly stated their positions on the bill, the passage of the bill could drastically affect how companies conduct business and interact with employees outside of normal working hours. We will continue to monitor the bill as it progresses through the New York City Council and will provide additional information as it becomes available.

Copyright © 2019, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP.

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About this Author

Sean Kirby, Legal Specialist, Sheppard Mullin, Labor, Employment
Associate

Sean Kirby is an associate in the Labor and Employment Practice Group in the firm's New York Office.

Areas of Practice

Mr. Kirby has experience representing management in a variety of employment-based matters in both judicial and arbitral forums, including disputes relating to discrimination and harassment allegations, breach of restrictive covenants and employment agreements, and wrongful termination.  Mr. Kirby also counsels employers on labor and employment issues, including wage and hour matters, personnel policies and internal investigations. In addition...

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