The proposed law on private employees disconnecting from electronic communications during non-work hours seeks to amend the New York city charter and the administrative code of the city of New York. If passed, it will make it unlawful for private employers from requiring their employees in New York to check and respond to emails and other electronic communication outside of work hours. As per Wikipedia, the ‘right to disconnect’ is a proposed human right regarding the ability of people to disconnect from work and primarily not to engage in work-related electronic communications such as e-mails or messages during non-work hours. Some countries in Europe already have such a right included in their labor law. France was the first country to introduce this concept in 2001, based on a decision of its Supreme Court, which held that "the employee is under no obligation either to accept working at home or to bring there his files and working tools.” Based on the recent development in New York, it now seems that other continents are considering this concept.
The thinking behind this development is to protect employees when they choose to disconnect from work. This would allow them a better work-life balance. While employees may still choose to respond to emails outside of work hours, not doing so cannot lead to any retaliation from their manager who as such should not expect a response. Additionally, employers will need to adopt necessary policies surrounding working hours, paid time off (during which employees have a right to disconnect), emergency situations, etc. Obviously, there will be certain exceptions to this rule, for example, work-related emergencies. On-call employees will also not be entitled to any protection on days that they are scheduled to work. Government employees will also be excluded. As per the proposed law, the employer could be subjected to a monetary fine if it does not comply with the requirements. Currently, this law is restricted to employers having at least ten employees in New York.
While there will always be mixed views, the real question is whether such matters should truly be legislated. For example, wouldn’t it be simply easier for an employee not to respond to phone calls or emails when he needs time off, rather than having such an ambiguous law? Or maybe use the option of delayed delivery in your emails? As such, these matters should be left to the employer and each employee. In today’s time, more and more companies are allowing their employees flexibility and freedom at work, and it is up to the employees to reciprocate that trust. Does anyone truly work only 9 to 5, in today’s world? Employers who provide a laptop, phone and internet connections or reimburse the costs, should also have some expectation of reaching out to their employees outside the regular working hours. Any such regressive legislation is more likely to lead to abuse and litigation, as compared to any real benefit, thereby taking away the attention of business.
Labour intensive countries like India are still hopefully far away from considering imposing such laws, although such developments in the western world are definitely of concern. Given how actively our technology and outsourcing sectors interact with clients globally, it currently appears impractical to enact such laws in India. In my experience, employers in India would prefer to focus on building great workplace culture and be seen as the best companies to work for, in order to truly achieve work-life balance.