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The Electronic “Do Not Disturb” Status May Affect Your Workplace

By Bobbie M. James

According to the ILO, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.” Employees working long hours can experience numerous mental, physical and social effects. With the private sector showing no sign of reducing the work hours of its employees on its own and technology making it easier than ever to reach anyone anywhere at any time, it is no surprise that policymakers are seeking to improve work-life balance through legislation.  Countries such as Germany, Italy, and, most recently, France and the Philippines, have enacted “right-to-disconnect” policies, which prohibit contacting employees during non-work hours.  Now, the so-called “Do-Not-Disturb” movement is spreading across North America to Canada and the United States.

In March of 2018, New York City Council members introduced a proposed law prohibiting private employers with more than 10 employees from requiring their employees to check and respond to their work emails, or any other work-related communications, during non-work hours. Two exceptions to this proposed rule are employees working overtime and emergency matters.  Employers who break this law would be subject to fines of $250 per violation.  As of January 17, 2019, the law is currently with the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing.

Although the proposed law seems like a step in the right direction towards the separation of personal lives and work, it creates complications for employers, employees, and our legal system.  For example, the courts will be tasked with interpreting and deciding what constitutes an emergency permitting an employer to contact an employee after work hours.  Additionally, employees who customarily check their phones outside of work hours may inadvertently be placing their employers at risk of receiving a fine.

At The Harman Firm, LLP, we believe the proposed law could successfully fulfill its purpose of giving employees the right to leave their work in the workplace and enjoy after-work hours with leisurely activities.  Until then, the Fair Labor Standards Act requires that non-exempt employees be paid unpaid overtime pay for overtime work, and the New York Labor Law requires that employees be paid for all hours worked.

If you believe your employer has denied your labor rights, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.


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