As the boundaries between work and life wear away, New York might become the first American city to enshrine the private lives of employees. Yesterday, Brooklyn Councilman Rafael L. Espinal Jr. introduced a bill requiring companies with more than ten employees to refrain from enforcing their workforce to answer emails and phone calls out of office hours. The act wouldn’t ban communications outright. Instead, it would give workers the opportunity to set their own boundaries.
The right to say no is not just a matter of individual freedom—it’s prudent management. The U.S. economy pays a high price for the colonization of our private lives. In 2015, the University of British Colombia published a report into the impact of checking work email and found that limiting the frequency throughout the day reduced daily stress. And according to the American Institute of Stress, the impact of stress at work far outreaches other causes of worry across the country. Annually, it costs companies around $300 billion in health care and missed work days.
The bill draws some inspiration from the famously casual work environment in France. As far back as 2001, the Labour Chamber of the French Supreme Court began raising concerns about the rise of instant communication and an increasing expectation for everyone to stay online all of the time. At the start of the year, the country passed a law banning companies from being forced to have work emails on their phone. Speaking to the BBC, French legislator Benoit Hamon described the law as a salve for workers who feel a prisoner-like attachment to their jobs. It’s a relationship Hamon likened to a pet-master dynamic where the phone serves as a “kind of electronic leash,” he said, “like a dog.”