California Assembly Bill Would Give Employees the ‘Right to Disconnect’ After Work

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The bill allows for some exceptions, such as contacting workers during emergencies or to discuss scheduling.

A San Francisco lawmaker wants California to become the first state in the nation to enact a law to give employees the right to ignore work-related communications outside of work hours.

Assembly Bill 2751, introduced in February and amended in March by Democratic Assemblyman Matt Haney, would allow employees to ignore calls and texts received from both public and private employers after they leave work.

“Work has changed drastically compared to what it was just 10 years ago,” Mr. Haney said in a press release April 1. “Smartphones have blurred the boundaries between work and home life. Workers shouldn’t be punished for not being available 24/7 if they’re not being paid for 24 hours of work.”

Mr. Haney said people have to be able to spend time with their families without being constantly interrupted at the dinner table, or worried about their phones and responding to work.

The idea originated in France, which adopted the first “right to disconnect” law in 2017, and is supported by the World Economic Forum and the World Health Organization, the latter of which called for employers to adopt “right to disconnect” measures in 2022, along with other workplace changes, to reduce the “psychosocial and mental health impact of teleworking.”

At least 13 countries have adopted similar laws in recent years after France including Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Greece, Ireland, Mexico, Italy, and Spain, among others.

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New York City considered a similar bill in 2018, but it didn’t pass.

Existing California law regulates wages, hours, and working conditions for employees and it is a crime for employers to require or cause employees to work longer hours than those set on a fixed schedule.

The bill allows for some exceptions, such as contacting employees during emergencies or to discuss scheduling. It also has an exception for organized labor, allowing collective bargaining agreements to supersede right-to-disconnect laws.

California Legislature staff would also be exempt from the law, which does not apply to those covered by a collective bargaining agreement, according to the proposed bill.

Industries with late or erratic hours, or those that require workers to be on-call, would still be allowed to contact employees as long as non-contact hours are stated in the workers’ contracts, or on-call time is compensated, according to Mr. Haney.

The bill also would require non-working hours to be established by a written agreement between employers and employees. It additionally would authorize employees to file complaints of violations with the state’s labor commissioner if an employer violates the law three or more times, which would be punishable by a penalty of no less than $100.

Mr. Haney sees the bill as a benefit to California’s workforce, making the state’s tech sector better able to compete for skilled workers with other states like Texas and New York, he said.

The bill has been referred to the Assembly Labor Committee and won’t be heard for at least a couple of weeks, according to media reports.

The California Chamber of Commerce, the largest business advocate in the state, opposes the bill.

The chamber’s senior policy advocate Ashley Hoffman says the bill would subject all employees to a rigid working schedule and prohibit communication between employers and employees.

“This blanket rule is a step backwards for workplace flexibility,” Ms. Hoffman said in a letter to Mr. Haney.

The state already has some of the most stringent labor laws in the country, according to the chamber. Protocols are already in place that disincentivize bosses from asking workers to work after hours, including overtime pay, breaks for rests and meals, and on-call and standby pay, she said in the letter.

The organization argues that the bill also conflicts with existing laws and fails to consider professions where higher compensation is provided in exchange for increased availability.

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