Thursday, March 29, 2018

I'm Off the Clock!

I previously wrote this post about among other things, how this movie scene resonated with me. I work in a financial sector of the IT arena. Way back in the day I was part of the on call rotation for an accounting system. If anything went wrong with the system after hours your pager would go off. If you didn't respond in a timely manner then you'd get a phone call. 

If the production support person hadn't heard from you in fifteen minutes they would contact the backup on call person and/or your boss. One big problem I had with this entire initiative was that initially our team didn't have the budget to fix the processes that were most likely to cause problems. Because our portfolio of responsibilities was huge, usually when someone was on call he or she would only know his or her given area of expertise. So when a particular accounting update process went bad the person on call might only know the reporting piece. 

So s/he would end up calling the accounting update specialist, who wasn't on call and wasn't going to be happy to be contacted at 2:30 AM. The most critical jobs always ran late at night. Eventually, via cross training and a boss that obtained enough funds to code fixes and upgrade databases, we reduced the frequency and intensity of problems. But it still was unpleasant to be on call. We were on salary so we didn't get any extra money if we had to tune a database or restart a reporting job at 2 AM. Perhaps if the company had to pay us more to be on call our previous boss would have pulled her head from her posterior and taken earlier steps to solve issues. I was reminded of all this history because in New York City there is a proposal to restrict the ability of employers to require workers to do work or answer emails from home after business hours.
A new law could make it illegal for employers in New York to expect their employees to check their emails outside of their official working hours. Brooklyn Councilman Rafael Espinal put forward The Right to Disconnect Bill on Thursday afternoon. If passed, it would make New York City the first American city to ban private employers from demanding workers be on call after they have clocked off.

“I think that because of technology, the lines have been blurred on when the work day begins and when the work day ends, and there are employers who take advantage of that fact,” Espinal told the city’s Observer news website.

He said he hopes the law would be a “win-win” for both parties: It would allow workers to “decompress, reduce anxiety and be able to perform better when they get to the work the next day.”

Espinal added that New Yorkers are excited about the law. Though some employers have expressed concern about how it would be put into practice. Under the proposal, it would be unlawful for businesses with 10 or more staff members to require employees to check and respond to emails and other electronic communications outside of contracted hours. Businesses that breach the rule would be fined $250.

Firms that retaliate against employees who comply with the law will be required to compensate the wages and benefits lost by their staff, and pay a $500 fine. The penalty rises to $2,500 in the case of an employee being fired.

The proposal is the latest bid by lawmakers to help employees strike a work-life balance, as technology risks turning the home into an extension of the office.

I think that this is a good idea. It may need to be tweaked. I think that technology is supposed to serve us. We aren't supposed to serve technology. I'm mildly notorious in my area of my employer's company for NOT being available after work hours. I've been told on and off the record that some important people don't like it. Well that's too bad. I've made my peace with that. There is, as far as I am concerned, very little that justifies anybody from work contacting me or expecting me to do work for free at home after I already did my work for the day. I'm simply not paid enough for that. 

But more importantly I have a strong belief--based on the aforementioned on call experiences--that work and personal life shouldn't mix. When I'm at home I don't want to be thinking about work. Work hard, yes. Always. But life is about more than work. You start doing work at home or answering emails or phone calls then you'll never have any down time. I think too many companies have gotten too comfortable thinking that employees should be available 24-7. No thanks. People think that the company is owed everything. No. No it is not. By now I must have seen at least a dozen co-workers pass on. And the company keeps on going. 

Now things are different if you are the company owner. And there are some professions where there is by definition little separation between work and home. And that's fine for people who choose those professions. But generally I think that there ought to be, if not a wall, at least a fence between work and home.

What's your take?

Do you think companies should have to pay if they contact workers at home?

Are there industries where this idea makes no sense?

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