Assemblymember Proposes ‘Right to Disconnect’ Law

By Jose Cervantes

Bill AB 2751 Aims to Protect Workers from After-Hours Communications

Assemblymember Matt Haney introduced Assembly Bill 2751, which grants California workers the “right to disconnect” from work-related communications outside working hours. If passed, California would become the first state in the US to enact such legislation.

The proposed law emerged in response to growing concerns over employee burnout, stress, and the blurring of work-life boundaries due to the pervasive use of digital communication channels, including emails, messages, and calls.

Assemblymember Haney emphasized that workers should not be penalized for being unavailable 24/7 if they are not being paid for it.

“People have to be able to spend time with their families without being constantly interrupted at the dinner table or their kids’ birthday party, worried about their phones and responding to work.”

AB 2751 draws inspiration from similar legislation in Italy, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, and Ireland, among several others.

France was the first in the world to mandate right-to-disconnect policies since 2017.

The bill’s press release cites studies published by the Academy of Management Proceedings and Notre Dame Journal of International & Comparative Law, respectively, to support the need for a right to disconnect legislation.

The studies show that employees experience “anticipatory stress” when they expect to respond to work communication during off-hours, and frequent digital connectivity to work may lead to work burnout, stress, and anxiety.

A 2023 report published by the European Union finds that employers with a right-to-disconnect policy have higher job satisfaction and fewer mental health issues among employees.

The bill would require employers to establish company-wide policies implementing the right-to-disconnect laws, outline working and non-working hours in employment contracts, and establish non-working hours through written agreements with employees.

The California Labor Commissioner’s office would be tasked to investigate and fine employers who violate the right to disconnect, starting at $100 per incident for a pattern of violations.

AB 2751 includes exemptions for off-hours contact, such as emergency situations, discussions regarding scheduling, and any agreements made by organized labor groups that annul the right to disconnect.

For industries with irregular hours or on-call requirements, no violations are made as long as non-contact hours are specified in contracts or on-call time is compensated.

Haney points to the increased productivity and reduced mental health impacts of disconnecting work and life as potential ways to make California a more attractive state for business.

A higher employee satisfaction rate would make California retain its workforce and increase competition with other states battling for the same skilled workers.

“California’s greatest asset is our highly skilled workforce. But we are in constant competition with other states like Texas and New York who are trying to woo California workers to their states.”

The American Psychological Association’s 2023 Work in America Survey found that 95% of respondents said it is important to work with an employer who respects their working and non-working boundaries.

The report also finds that 57% of respondents are facing negative impacts on their mental health due to work-related stress, with 23% desiring to quit and 26% feeling unmotivated to try their best efforts with their work.

The California Chamber of Commerce wrote a letter to Haney opposing the bill, calling it a “JOB KILLER.” They mention the bill’s potential to terminate overtime work, considering it mandates employers to set working and non-working hours.

Overtime work would be prohibited under the bill unless the overtime work is preplanned or set extended working hours outside an employee’s usual shift to avoid violating the legislation.

The group criticizes the bill for its vagueness, such as its definitions of who qualifies as an employer and who is allowed and prohibited from contacting employees under what circumstances.

Likewise, it is still being determined if the bill will allow an employer to send a message to an employee during off-hours with the expectation that the employee will read the message during work hours.

The California Chamber of Commerce argues that AB 2751 creates an inflexible work environment. They state, “Sometimes unexpected problems or workloads arise. California’s laws are designed to ensure that people are compensated when that happens.”

The Assembly Labor Committee is expected to hear AB 2751 in the coming weeks. If it passes the committee and the full Assembly, it will move to the State Senate for consideration.

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