By Robert G. Chadwick, Jr., Managing Member, Seltzer, Chadwick, Soefje & Ladik, PLLC.
As many employers already know, states and municipalities have recently been at the forefront in enacting legislation to protect the rights of workers. Previous articles on this blog have highlighted new laws governing predictive scheduling, state-specific sexual harassment prevention, non-disclosure agreements, job candidate screening, paid sick time, and other terms and conditions of employment.
So what other legislative initiatives should employers be monitoring? Based upon a bill scheduled this week for hearing by the New York City Council, “right to disconnect” initiatives should certainly be on this list.
Under the proposed New York ordinance, it would be unlawful for a covered private employer “to require an employee to access work-related electronic communications outside of such employee’s work hours, not including overtime, except in cases of emergency.” The term “electronic communications” includes “electronic mail, text messages, or other digital means of conveying data electronically.”
Under the proposed ordinance, a covered employer would face a fine of $250 “for each instance of an employee being required to access work-related electronic communications outside of the standard work hours.” For an employee terminated in violation of the proposed ordinance, available remedies include “reinstatement” and “full compensation including wages and benefits lost.”
The proposed ordinance would take effect a mere 120 days after its enactment.
The New York City initiative comes on the heels of “right to disconnect” laws enacted in 2017 in France and Italy. India is also currently considering a “right to disconnect” law.
Whether or not New York City enacts the proposed ordinance, it is likely states and other municipalities will take notice of the arguments cited in favor of enactment. These arguments include quality of life away from work, which has already been successfully cited as a reason for predictive scheduling ordinances. Even if New York City does not pass a “right to disconnect” law, another jurisdiction will likely do so.
As previously advised on this blog, compliance and risk management strategies by employers must adapt to the ever-changing legal landscape, especially at the state and local level. This landscape can change in months, not years. The price of not being diligent in monitoring this landscape may be liability for fines, damages or worse.