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Will it take a law to get workers away from their email?

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A proposed New York City law would prohibit employers from requiring employees to check email after hours.

Many workers check their email at night after they’ve left work or in the morning before going into the office, and most Americans report that they use mobile devices to do work outside of regular business hours.

You may have personal views on whether this is healthy. For example, some workers appreciate being able to work from home at night to avoid spending that time in the office. Others feel that a constant connection with work leads to stress and an unhealthy work-life balance. 

The ‘Right to Disconnect Bill’ would prevent mandatory emailing after hours

Checking email outside of normal working hours should be voluntary, argues Brooklyn Councilman Rafael Espinal. On March 22, he introduced a bill that would prohibit private employers in New York City from requiring employees to check email outside of “contracted hours.” It would not prohibit employees from checking email voluntarily, at any hour.

If it passes, the law would subject employers to fines for any violations, and would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who reported their employer for violating the law.

A ‘win-win’ situation or overreach?

According to Councilman Espinal, the law is intended to help both employers and employees. According to the World Federation for Mental Health, an estimated 400 million work hours are lost every year in the U.S. due to depression. Allowing employees to have a stronger work-life balance may help reduce that number, leading to healthier and more productive employees.

Some employers and industry advocates, however, have expressed concerns. In a competitive market, quick responses and long work hours can be the only way to gain an edge.

The bill is still in its early stages, and it is unclear whether it will become law. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office has said the law is still being reviewed. The “Right to Disconnect Bill” is currently with the Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing Committee.

While other countries have passed similar laws, the measure is the first of its kind in the U.S.

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