California Lawmakers Propose ‘Right To Disconnect’ Bill

Lawmakers in California have suggested a bill that would legally grant workers a “right to disconnect” from professional communications when not on the clock.

The proposal would allow for exceptions, meaning unionized workers and scheduling or emergency communication would not be legally allowed to simply forego workplace communications. As jobs across the country are becoming increasingly remote-friendly, employees are growing frustrated by the expectation that they should be available beyond working hours.

This interference with work-life balance sparked Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) to propose Assembly Bill 2751. It would be the first of its kind enacted in any of the American states.

Similar laws have been instituted in other countries, including Canada, France, Belgium, Italy, the Philippines and Australia. California’s proposed law would require that employers respect workers’ rights not to respond to work-related communications outside their regular business hours unless agreed upon in a contract or in the case of an emergency.

AB 2751 could fine companies up to $100 for “three or more documented instances of violating the right to disconnect,” which would constitute a “pattern of violation.” According to the proposal, employers and their employees would be required to have written agreements designating what are working and non-working hours, meaning the times that workers are legally expected to ignore work communications without repercussions.

Certain stipulations remain, however, such as the “emergency” exemption to the “right to disconnect.” This provides the ability for employers to require their workers to respond to work issues that involve an “unforeseen situation” which poses a risk for “an employee, customer, or the public.” Other emergencies include situations that interrupt or “shut down operations” and those which may lead to “physical or environmental damage.”

The exact protocol for determining what qualifies as an emergency and how employees would be expected to identify such situations remains unclear.

Violations of the written agreement between workers and employers would allow employees to file a complaint with the California Labor Commissioner, who would determine if the situation garners the punishment of a fine.

The bill does not include unionized workers who are involved in collective bargaining agreements. It was referred to the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment on April 1 and is expected to be debated in the next several weeks.

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