The NYC Council’s Ill-Advised Attempt to Legislate Work-Life Balance Should Be Voted Down

Recently, Brooklyn City Councilman Rafael Espinal proposed a bill last Thursday that aims to make it illegal for private employees in New York City to be required to check and respond to their work emails or take part in work-related electronic communications during non-work hours.  The idea is great--I'm sure everyone would love to live in a world where the moment we walk out of the office, the world just stops, and waits for us to return the next day.  

That's just not realistic at all.  Just ask his campaign staff.  Did he ever send an e-mail to them "off hours"? 

Hard to see how he'd win without doing so.

Don't get me wrong--work/life balance is really really important.  Firms recognize this.  They're doing more and more to facilitate healthy approaches to work, offering meditation classes, paying for gym memberships, creating paths for parents returning to the workplace to work flexible schedules, etc.  

Creating legislation around this creates move problems than it solves.  Plenty of perfectly healthy work environments occasionally dip into "off hours" time.  Maybe I've decided to work late because I took the day off tomorrow, but I need some bit of information from a colleague.  Maybe that person is difficult to work with generally, and is on the verge of getting fired.  A nice colleague might respond to my "Hey, what revenues were you projecting this year?" text with a quick response, but this person just ignores it.  Now I can't do my job because he doesn't feel like doing his.

After generally mistreating other employees, when they finally fire him, now he uses this law as his cover--and the company is potentially going to get fined.  

White collar workers connected by e-mail are quite capable of maintaining the proper balance here through clear communication of expectations.  This is why work hours aren't defined--because if I say 9-5, the person who likes working 10-6 is going to be less productive.  When you create a rule for everything, you lose efficiency.  When do work hours end?  5? 6? 7?  What about the day before a big client presentation?  What about when your co-workers are doing a presentation in SF and it's 7:30PM here?  They're working, but you're "off?"  They need the latest copy of the deck and they're trying to reach you, but you just sit there with your arms crossed because you're "off the clock?"  Is a sales pitch an "emergency?"  

Good luck enforcing this.

Trying to litigate what constitutes an "emergency" e-mail is foolhardy and isn't worth the government's time, not to mention that these mobile technologies actually allow people to be better at work life balance in many cases.  Do you need to be checking e-mail 24/7?  No.  Would it be helpful to respond to something after you've put the kids to bed, so that your earlybird co-worker has what they need on their 6am train ride into the city?  Yeah.  And if you're on your phone tweeting cat pictures, your co-worker has every right to get annoyed that you couldn't get them a quick answer on that memo if they're paying you over $100k/year.  

If you really want to go after abuse of workers, check out all the delivery employees who bring your lunch by bike without Worker's Comp insurance and without any Fair Work Week protections, because they're all 1099 employees.