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California Bill To Give Workers “Right to Disconnect” After Done With Work for the Day

A laptop in front of a window with a beautiful view, surrounded by two unlit candles.
Source: cogdogblog/Wikimeda

Matt Haney, an Assemblymember from San Francisco, has introduced a bill with a mission to protect workers’ off time.

Assembly Bill 2571, introduced in February, would grant additional protections for employees when they are off the clock at their jobs. Workers would be protected from having to answer emails or respond to messages from their supervisors when they have “disconnected” without consequences.

Haney calls the protection a “right to disconnect” and hopes it will empower workers to feel safer stepping away from work to maintain a better work-life balance.

In an interview with Fox, Haney outlined his motivations for the proposal.

“I’ve heard from a lot of my constituents, family and friends, about how they often feel like they have no time when they’re not working. It used to be for most people, that you went into work, you clocked in, you worked hard, and when you clocked out, you were able to rest or be with your kids,” Haney said.

A JobSage survey from 2022 found that over half of Americans have blended their work and leisure time together in so-called “workcations” despite 59% of those surveyed not liking them. 67% of Americans reported that their work and leisure time have blended together in recent years.

Now that employers have 24/7 digital access to employees, some workers are finding it increasingly harder to disconnect.

A resident of Walnut Creek named Tony Richelle described his experience working in real estate, whose bosses would sometimes not respect time off.

Describing calls he would get during nonworking hours, Richelle said “Sometimes I won’t even answer the phone, and that’s an option. That’s a choice that I have and that’s a choice other people have. There might be consequences of that choice.”

Representative Haney’s Assembly Bill 2571 would enshrine into law protections that would eliminate consequences for not answering employer’s calls during off hours. Under this provision, employers in both the private and public sectors would need to change workplace policies and rules to allow employees to ignore their bosses during off time.

The bill would require a non-working hours policy to be established by a written agreement, and those failing to comply would be punished with a fine.

While Richelle is supportive of the measure, he also brings up a concern about smaller employers, and how they might have difficulty complying.

“Small businesses could be hamstrung if an employee is not able to answer the phone or if an owner says, ‘I can’t call this person because I might get in trouble,'” Richelle said. “It might impact that business for one reason or another.”

Critics of worker protection laws and bills sometimes say that such provisions disproportionately impact smaller businesses, because bigger businesses have the resources to more easily comply with new government standards.

In response to criticism, Haney says that complying with the new standards shouldn’t be overburdening to employers.

“They just need to have a policy on it about when people are working and when they are not,” Haney said. “It shouldn’t be that hard and the problem right now is the murkiness and the gray area can lead people to feel that they need to be on 24/7. If an employee consents to be working late hours and available all the time. Have them sign on to that in their employee contract.”

The bill awaits a hearing by the Assembly Labor Committee. If the law is eventually passed, California would be the first state to enshrine a “right to disconnect” for workers into its laws.

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