CLIENT UPDATE

Putney, Twombly, Hall & Hirson LLP
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New York, NY 10175
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April 6, 2018

New York City Council Proposes Bill Banning Employers From Requiring Employees to Respond to Electronic Work Communications After Work Hours

On March 22, 2018, the New York City Council proposed a bill, nicknamed the “Right to Disconnect Bill,” seeking to bar private employers from requiring their employees to access work-related electronic communications beyond their usual work hours. If passed, the bill would make New York City the first American city to enact such a law.

Under the Right to Disconnect Bill, employers with more than 10 employees will be barred from requiring that their employees access work-related electronic communications --such as emails, text messages, and instant messenger services-- outside of normal work hours, not including overtime. The bill does not ban employers from contacting employees after they clock out; instead, it states that employees cannot be required to access or respond to the employer’s after-hours communication.  The bill includes a narrow exception to its prohibition for an “emergency,” which is vaguely defined as a “sudden and serious event, or an unforeseen change in circumstances, that calls for immediate action to avert, control or remedy harm.” 

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: (1) the usual work hours for each class of employee; and (2) the categories of paid time off (for example, 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.  Although the bill would cover most private-sector employees, certain employees would be exempt from its protections, including: (1) employees whose terms of employment require them to be on call 24 hours per day; (2) employees in work study programs; (3) employees compensated through scholarships; and (4) independent contractors.

 

The Right to Disconnect Bill proposes several 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 time an employer requires an employee to check electronic communications after work hours; and (iii) fines between $500 and $2,500 for retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the bill.

Takeaway for Employers

As this bill has yet to be signed into law, employers need not take any action at present. New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio has not publicly stated his position on the bill.  If signed into law, the bill will undoubtedly alter how companies interact with employees and clients outside of normal working hours. We will monitor the bill as it moves through the New York City Council and provide additional information as it becomes available.

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If you have any questions regarding this alert, or any other issue, please do not hesitate to contact us.  We will keep you apprised of developments regarding this bill.