California considers “proper to disconnect” bill to prevent bosses contacting workers out of hours

Mike Powers

A hot potato: Many modern jobs don’t stop when employees are off the clock. Plenty of people are forced to engage with their bosses, whether through email, text messages, phone calls, or other communication methods, outside of normal hours and on days they are supposed to be off work. But a new ‘right to disconnect’ bill could regulate this practice in California.

If passed, Assembly Bill 2751, introduced by assemblymember Matt Haney of San Francisco in February, will give employees the right to disconnect from communications from their employer during nonworking hours.

The bill would require nonworking hours to be established in a written agreement between the employer and employee. It would mean that the employee has the right to ignore any communications from an employer received during these times. The only exceptions would be for emergencies or for scheduling reasons. The San Francisco Standard reports that collectively bargained employment agreements like union contracts would supersede the right to disconnect.

The California Department of Labor will enforce the law, handing out $100 fines to employers for every incident where they contact employees outside of agreed working hours.

California considers “proper to disconnect” bill to prevent bosses contacting workers out of hours

The bill has not yet been passed or signed into law. It has been referred to the Assembly Labor Committee to be heard.

After France became the first to do so in 2017, similar right to disconnect laws have been introduced in more than ten countries, including Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, and Spain. California would be the first US state to offer workers these protections, though if the bill passes, it would likely encourage other states to follow suit.

“If you’re working a 9-to-5 job, you shouldn’t be expected to be working 24/7. That should be available to everyone, regardless of the existence of smartphones,” Hanley said.

Hanley noted that California becoming the first US state to introduce a right to disconnect law would be fitting, given that so many of the technologies used to contact workers all hours of the day were created in Silicon Valley. But the bill is unlikely to be met with much enthusiasm from tech companies and startups that prioritize always-on-the-clock work schedules over any form of work-life balance.

masthead: cottonbro studio

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