A member of the New York City Council has introduced a bill that would prohibit retaliation against workers in the private sector who do not check their email after work hours. The bill is modeled after a similar law in France that went into effect last year.
“Technology has made it easy for companies and employers to blur the line on the amount of time employers are working,” Councilman Rafael Espinal said in an interview. “The essence and spirit of this bill is to go after employers who are harassing employees to the point they are being retaliated against.”
There is no doubt that due, in part, to technologies like email, text messaging, and cloud computing, many employees can do much of their jobs from anyplace at any time. And many employers expect their employees to do just that. But this technology can be both a blessing and a curse.
The technology can be a curse because employers can encroach on employees’ personal time in ways that they couldn’t before. In the past, when employees had to work in a physical office space to do their jobs, they could feel confident when they went home for the day that they would not have to continue to work at home. That is obviously not true today. Today, workers can login to employer’s servers remotely, access information through cloud computing, and communicate through texts and email on smartphones. As a result, employers have become increasingly able to ask and expect employees to work from home after-hours.
These technologies, however, can also be a blessing if an employee needs a flexible work schedule. Employees with children, for example, may want to take time away from work during traditional work hours in order to spend time with their children. Sometimes these employees may want to leave work early, for example, to watch a child’s soccer game. If these employees can work from home after the children go to bed at night or on the weekend, these technologies are a blessing. These technologies also allow many employees to telework from their homes, which saves money and time because they do not have to commute.
Any legislation that seeks to limit when and how employees use these technologies must take into account these competing interests. It appears that Councilman Espinal and others who espouse this type of legislation want to ensure that employees can choose to spend time with their families, instead of working 24/7, which is a laudable goal. But they must be careful that their legislation will accomplish this goal.