No more after-hours texts from your boss? Bill to limit employer contact passes first vote

Legislation that aims to limit after-hours contact from bosses got its first approval from an Assembly committee this week, passing despite concerns it would overly regulate workplace communications.

AB 2751, from Asm. Matt Haney, D-San Francisco, would require employers to implement a policy giving their workers “the right to disconnect” during non-work hours. If approved by the Legislature, it would be the first law of its kind in the country.

Haney argued Wednesday technological advancements have pushed the boundaries of work-life balance and that workers are entitled to time “to have to themselves, to rest, to recuperate and be with their families.”

The proposal would not apply to communications regarding scheduling or an emergency. It would not strictly ban after-hours contact or prevent employees from continuing to work if they choose, Haney said, but aims to temper expectations that off-the-clock workers respond to messages from their bosses.

“Employees should not be retaliated against for choosing to disconnect when they are off,” he said. “Simply put, this bill requires an employer to have a [right to disconnect] policy. It can be as flexible as an employer and employee want it to be.”

Business groups who spoke against the bill said it would hurt competition and innovation in California, describing it as “problematic” and “overly broad.”

“California has extremely strict laws that apply to non-exempt employees,” or hourly workers, and overtime, said Ashley Hoffman with the California Chamber of Commerce. “Employers, therefore, really crack down on overtime and people needing to be on-call.”

Employers with a “pattern of violations” could face fines of at least $100.

Haney said the legislation is modeled after laws in a handful of other countries.

“Californians, just like people in France, Portugal, Italy, Spain, the Philippines and Canada, deserve some time that’s protected for themselves and to know when that is,” he said.

Asm. Chris Ward, D-San Diego, voted for the bill but raised concerns it could lead to employers being “punished for sending the [after-hours] message in the first place.”

“This could open up a lot of complaints from the labor commissioner that are meant to maybe just be innocent lines of communication,” Ward said.

The bill passed the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee along party lines and next goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.