California Legislation Provides Workers With So-Called ‘Right To Disconnect’

A California legislator recently proposed legislation providing workers with a “right to disconnect” from work communications outside of work hours, exempting unionized workers and discussions on emergency scheduling.

As remote work increases across the U.S., employees are being held accountable to employers outside of traditional working hours, failing to create a boundary between family time and work, according to Just the News.

California Assemblymember Matt Haney unveiled the legislation, which would fine companies $100 for a “pattern of violation” of state law, meaning “three or more documented instances of violating the right to disconnect.”

Under the bill, employees and employers would be required to provide written agreements concerning non-working hours during which employees can ignore work-related communications.

“Work has changed drastically compared to what it was just 10 years ago,” Haney said in a statement. “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.”

The legislation included a so-called “emergency” exemption, which would allow employees to be required to respond to matters concerning an “unforeseen situation that threatens an employee, customer, or the public; disrupts or shuts down operations; or causes physical or environmental damage.”

Haney’s legislation excludes unionized workers protected by active collecting bargaining agreements to prevent infringing on the benefits secured by union negotiators. This suggests that the bill may be tilted in favor of state unions, among the most influential and powerful in the U.S.

The bill was sent to the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment on April 1, 2024. Arguments over the legislation will likely be heard in the forthcoming weeks.

The California Chamber of Commerce business group opposes Haney’s legislation.

In a letter addressed to Haney from senior policy advocate Ashley Hoffman, the group said, “The bill will effectively subject all employees to a rigid working schedule and prohibits communication between employers and employees absent an emergency.”

The San Francisco Chronicle noted that countries like France, Australia, Italy and Argentina, among others, have passed laws to safeguard workers’ personal time.

“We’re simply saying there should be consent around when (people) are working and not,” Haney said.