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Do We Really Need Legislation about After Hours Communication?

A new bill being considered in New York City would fine companies which force employees to check their email, texts, etc. outside of normal work hours. I’m not a fan of government overlords, but I do think it raises some interesting points.

Where is the common sense?

This kind of legislation feels like a compensation for lack of common sense. I know everyone is busy, but unless you are living off the grid you should know this is a candidates’ market. If you are demanding (or there is an implied expectation), that your people respond to emails late night and weekends, then start writing them a recommendation letter right now, because they are going to leave. There are plenty of successful companies that drive hard and demand a lot while still respecting the fact that employees have lives outside of work.

What about the implied obligation?

I am sure the defense will be, “I never told them they had to respond.” The fact, is if the employee is a subordinate, they feel they must. If everyone responds right away, it is because they feel obligated. Worse still is when everyone replies all right away. No one wants to be the one person not to respond. If this is not your intention, make that known! People need permission to respond when it is reasonable, not just when their boss happens to have a thought.

It should be a choice.

Understandably, there are a lot of jobs and a lot of industries that require people to be available off hours. Mine, recruiting, happens to be one of them. But this is a decision we made, one that we want to do. Is it reasonable to expect that one of my team mates could get someone they are representing ready for an interview tomorrow when the request came in after 5:00? Yes, because it is what is best for the candidate and it’s what we signed up for.  But is it reasonable for me to expect someone in accounting to get me a report after hours just because I happened to think of it in that moment and wanted to send a request before I forgot? No! And if I had half a brain I would have set up a delayed delivery so they didn’t get it until they arrived in the morning.

I would be surprised if this bill has legs. But, it’s a great reminder that we should be thinking about what (and when) we are asking from our employees, implied or overt.

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