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California legislator proposes right to disconnect outside of work hours

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(The Center Square) — California legislators are proposing workers gain a “right to disconnect” from work communications outside of work hours, excluding unionized workers and discussions on emergencies, scheduling.

With the rise of remote work, many employees find themselves accountable to employers outside of traditional working hours, blurring the boundaries between time at home with family and time on the clock.

The bill, proposed by Assemblymember Matt Haney, D-San Francisco, would fine companies $100 for a “pattern of violation” of the law, which would mean “three or more documented instances of violating the right to disconnect.” Employees and employers would be forced to provide written agreements setting non-working hours that employees would be able to ignore work communications during.

The “emergency” exemption, as defined, would allow for employees to be required to respond to matters regarding an “unforeseen situation that threatens an employee, customer, or the public; disrupts or shuts down operations; or causes physical or environmental damage.”

However, it’s unclear how workers would be able to distinguish emergency from non-emergency communications, or the extent to which standard communications regarding work relate to “unforeseen” situations that can disrupt or shut down operations.

The bill excludes unionized workers covered by active collective bargaining agreements to avoid infringing on the benefits secured by union negotiators, suggesting the bill may have implicit support of the state’s unions, which are among the most powerful political forces in the state.

On April 1, the bill was referred to the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment, where it will likely be heard in the coming weeks.