California Bill Would Penalize Companies for Contacting Employees After Hours

‘If you’re working a 9-to-5 job, you shouldn’t be expected to be working 24/7,’ the bill’s introducer says.

AP/Sunday Alamba
An ad for Google's Gmail appears on the side of a bus. AP/Sunday Alamba

California employees could soon be legally protected if they ignore their bosses outside of work hours, as a new bill seeks to grant employees a “right to disconnect.”

Though “right to disconnect” legislation exists in several other countries such as France, Spain, and Belgium, the bill is the first of its kind in America. It aims to “require a public or private employer to establish a workplace policy” that would allow employees to ignore emails and other communication from bosses outside of normal working hours, with exceptions for emergencies or scheduling. 

The bill’s introducer has said that it could help remedy some of the overbearing effects of technology that his tech-forward region helped create. 

“I do think it’s fitting that California, which has created many of these technologies, is also the state that introduces how we make it sustainable and update our protections for the times we live in and the world we’ve created,” a state assembly member representing San Francisco, Matt Haney, told the San Francisco Standard. “If you’re working a 9-to-5 job, you shouldn’t be expected to be working 24/7.”

The bill, AB 2751, would require employers and employees to establish a written agreement about what non-working hours are, and if the agreement is violated, it would then “authorize an employee to file a complaint of a pattern of violation of the bill’s provisions with the Labor Commissioner, punishable by a specified civil penalty.”

Mr. Haney has said the bill would return working standards from before the smartphone era, which has “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,” he said, per the San Francisco Chronicle. “We’ve crafted it in a way that addresses the recent changes to work brought on by new technology, but to also be pro-California business.” 

Some observers fear that the measure would add to an already lengthy list of regulations burdening California employers. In opposition to the bill, California’s Chamber of Commerce warned that the state’s labor laws are already among the most comprehensive in the country. 

“The bill will effectively subject all employees to a rigid working schedule and prohibit communication between employers and employees absent an emergency,” the chamber said, the Chronicle reported, in a letter to Mr. Haney.


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