This week, Rafael L. Espinal, the New York City Council member who brought the city its very first nightlife czar, introduced another eminently reasonable piece of legislation: one that would allow employees to ignore their bosses after work hours without being retaliated against. As the Associated Press reports:
The proposal would bar employers from requiring employees to respond to non-emergency emails, texts and other digital communications outside regular work hours. It would also outlaw retaliating against workers who choose to unplug.
As Espinal put it, the law would help people “draw a clear line between the workplace and their personal lives, to give them time to connect with their family, friends, reduce their stress levels and be able to go back to work and perform at their optimal level.” It is based on France’s “right to disconnect” law, which passed countrywide last year and set specific hours during which most employees would not be permitted to send or receive email.
But of course, this is America, where workers have been bludgeoned into a state of submission and fear, and where being decently compensated for a job that requires your semi-divided attention for 10 to 16 hours a day is considered not just a lucky break, but a sign of extreme success. A Gallup poll last year found that about six in 10 workers say they check email outside of normal business hours, and 91 percent of those say the amount is “reasonable”—an indication of just how deeply we’ve internalized the necessity of our suffering.
In the same AP story, a lawyer who defends management and employers in labor disputes said the problems with such a law are “going to be tremendous. I just don’t think you can legislate against progress.”
As inquiries into this great progress have shown, productivity has surged over the last few decades, while wages have remained stagnant. As lower-income populations have had their hours cut across demographic lines, everyone else has seen their work weeks expand dramatically. Americans take less vacation time and work longer days than anyone else in the industrialized world.
I’m actually not sure what I would do with those extra five or six hours a day, uninterrupted by Slack jokes or last-minute emails. Probably spend more time with my dog.