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California Becomes First State to Push for “Right to Disconnect”

The California state legislature has introduced a bill – the first of its kind in the United States – that would give workers the right to ignore communications from their employer outside of “normal” work hours. 

What’s in the bill?

  • Employers would be required to “establish a workplace policy that provides employees the right to disconnect from communications from the employer during nonworking hours.”

  • “Nonworking hours” are defined as hours outside of the employee’s “assigned hours of work, whether stated in their job description or stated otherwise.” 

  • “Right to disconnect” simply means that employees would be entitled to ignore communications during nonworking hours without employer retaliation. 

  • Employers would still be allowed to communicate with employees during nonworking hours in “emergencies” or for “scheduling.”

    • “Emergencies” are 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” means changes to a schedule within 24 hours. 

New trend? As remote work has increased in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, several countries have adopted laws giving workers the right to disconnect, including France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Australia, Canada, and Slovakia. California’s entry into this area – the first American jurisdiction to do so – could inspire similar efforts around the United States. 

Questions remain: The proposed law is not without its critics. How such a law would interact with overtime laws remains unclear, as are its effects on scheduling in general. Given that many employees are increasingly working nontraditional hours, how would their “nonworking hours” be defined under such a law? Further, the bill is unclear, as written, on whether employers are prohibited from contacting employees outside of work hours besides the two exceptions, or whether employees are merely entitled to ignore employer communications. Finally, if other states follow California’s lead, employers could be stuck with yet another patchwork approach to a labor and employment issue.

Published on:

Authors: Gregory Hoff

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