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New York City Introduces Disconnecting From Work Law

Disconnecting from work may be à la mode.  And no, I do not mean topped with ice cream.  Rather, it appears that laws restricting or prohibiting employers from requiring employees to check work e-mails after work hours could be catching.

Last year, a law in France granting employees a “right to disconnect” from work went into effect.  The law requires covered employers (companies with more than 50 employees) to ensure that their employees’ work does not intrude on after-work hours.  This generally encompasses work e-mails and other communications.

Like the French, lawmakers in New York introduced the Disconnecting From Work law on March 22.  If passed, the law would prohibit New York City employers from requiring employees to access work-related e-mails, text messages, and other electronic communications, after regular work hours.  Employers would also be prohibited from retaliating against employees for exercising or attempting to exercise their “disconnecting from work” rights and from interfering with employees’ rights to the same.

There would be exceptions for overtime work and cases of emergency, and certain employees would be exempted from coverage.  The proposed law would not apply to certain on-call employees, work study and scholarship programs, or independent contractors.

The law would require employers to adopt written policies regarding the use of electronic devices to receive electronic communications by employees.  Policies would need to include the usual work hours for each class of employees and the categories of paid time off (e.g. vacation, personal, and sick days).  Employers would need to notify employees of their “disconnecting from work” rights at the commencement of employment, or within 30 days of the effective date of the law for existing employees.

As for Maryland employers, there is no “right to disconnect” law in Maryland.  However, as a reminder, Maryland law does require employers to pay employees for all hours worked, which includes time that employees are required to be “on duty.”  COMAR 09.12.41.10.  Employers also must pay their non-exempt employees for time worked over 40 hours per week.  Md. Code Ann. Lab. & Empl. § 3-420.  Thus, if employers expect employees to monitor work communications “after hours,” they will be wise to ensure that they are also complying with wage and hour laws.

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