Employers Could Be Fined for Bothering Employees After Work Under a Newly Proposed California Law

Work plays a crucial role in our lives. Our earnings ensure that bills get paid, there is food on the table, and we have a rainy day fund to cover unexpected financial emergencies. However, while work is crucial in our lives, we must not overlook the importance of maintaining a healthy balance between work and personal life. The digital era has significantly made it hard for employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance. This has resulted in some countries introducing laws to protect employees’ personal time. A proposed bill in California would make California the first state in the U.S. to establish a “right to disconnect” law. Under this bill, employees would have the legal right to ignore non-emergency calls, texts, and emails once their workday ends. At least ten other countries, including Canada, France, and Portugal, have such laws.

The “right to disconnect” law, or Assembly Bill 2751 (AB 2751), was introduced by Assembly Member Matt Haney at the beginning of April 2024. AB 2751 aims to guarantee California workers uninterrupted personal and family time by creating a “right to disconnect” from emails, calls, and texts after work hours. Assemblyman Matt Haney said that his decision to introduce AB 2751 was inspired by a similar law that was passed in Australia, which is set to be implemented later this year. If AB 2751 is signed into law, any employer who violates the “right to disconnect” law could face a monetary fine. AB 2751 has to move through several approvals before reaching the governor. The governor will then have until September to sign the bill into law.

Under Assembly Bill 2751, California employers are required to have an agreement with their employees clearly defining their working hours and granting them the right to ignore any work-related communications after work hours. Under AB 2751, the only exceptions to this rule are during emergencies or when an employee is contacted to discuss scheduling changes affecting the next 24 hours. According to the bill, an emergency is an unforeseen situation that puts workers, clients, or the public in danger, disrupts work, or harms the environment. If an employer breaks this agreement three times, an employee could file a report with the California Labor Commissioner, and the employer would be subject to fines. A violation requires three or more documented instances of violating AB 2751.

Regarding salaried employees, AB 2751 would not override existing collective bargaining agreements. Unionized employees would have to abide by whatever their contracts say about off-hours communication. As for remote workers, the bill would only cover remote workers reporting to California employers.

Matt Haney clarified that AB 2751 only applies to managers and their employers. This means that a co-worker emailing, calling, or texting you about work during non-working hours would not be a violation of the bill. However, this could change.

Just as Assembly Bill 2751 has supporters, it also has critics. Employers and others have warned that the bill would be a “step backward for workplace flexibility.” Some employers, especially those with employees spread out across different time zones, also seem confused about how to implement the bill if it is approved.

We will continue to monitor AB 2751 as it progresses through the legislative process.

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