California Legislator Proposes Right To Disconnect Laws

California Assemblymember Matt Haney (D) has proposed a new law in the state penalizing companies for contacting employees outside of agreed-upon working hours.

“Right to disconnect” laws aim to decrease burnout and improve work-life balance by preventing companies from punishing employees who don’t agree to be contacted outside of work hours.

13 countries, including Australia, Belgium and Mexico already have similar laws in effect.

The proposed California law would fine companies $100 for “three or more documented instances of violating the right to disconnect,” by repeatedly contacting employees or penalizing them for not answering communication outside of working hours.

Employers would have to outline in contracts with their employees during what hours they are required to answer communication like phone calls, emails, texts and Slack or Teams messages.

The law allows exceptions for several instances. Employees may still be required to respond in an emergency, which is defined as an “unforeseen situation that threatens an employee, customer, or the public; disrupts or shuts down operations; or causes physical or environmental damage.”

Scheduling communications are also exempt from the law, as such discussions often need to take place before the employee comes to work.

Because the law would require individual contracts, on-call employees such as doctors or repairmen would still be able to be on-call if they agree to it.

“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”

On April 1, the bill was sent to the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment, who will debate its merits before deciding to move forward with the law.

Overall, the law will help people who work nine-to-five jobs maintain a good work-life balance, without doing much harm to other industries.