Lawmakers discuss ‘Right to Disconnect’ bill in NY

To respond or not to respond - that was the issue being debated at a City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs hearing Thursday on the so-called “Right To Disconnect” bill.

The proposed legislation, introduced by City Councilmember Rafael Espinal, would prohibit employers from requiring their employees to respond to work-related communications after normal work-hours.

Penalizing workers under the law would lead to hefty fines.

Labor organizations welcomed the bill they say will benefit common targets at the workplace - women and young people.

“We are expected to compete with male superiors and we have to be able to outperform them and out performing means responding to emails 24/7,” said one worker who testified before the committee.

“I think this law is really important especially with Amazon coming to town,” Yulia Laricheva, a self-described freelancer told the committee. “That is a whole huge corporation that is known for timing workers.”

While the notion of having the “right to disconnect” appears simple, business advocacy groups say legislation would open a can of worms.

“For professional employees, they typically don’t have usual work hours – they are available as needed,” Kathryn Wylde, president of Partnership for NYC, said. “This stuff just does not lend itself to legislation or one regimented approach.”

Citing studies that show overuse of technology could take a toll on mental health, proponents of the bill say the time to act is now.

“There’s a lot of evidence that what technology has done to many of our patterns and behaviors inside and outside of the workplace is having consequences that are going to require some public policy responses,” argued Brad Lander, Deputy Leader For Policy in the NYC Council, at Thursday’s hearing.

The committee on Consumer Affairs says it's using these hearings to refine the language of the bill in terms of how it will be regulated and what type of worker - whether they be hourly or salaried - will be protected under it.

Meanwhile, an official with the City’s Department of Consumer Affairs reportedly opposes the legislation, saying it would be near to impossible to enforce.

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