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Tired of late messages from your boss? A new bill aims to make it illegal.

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Your boss sends you an instant message at 9 p.m. on a weekday, well after your departure time, about something that can wait until the next day. Fearing that your supervisor will get upset if you don’t respond, you reopen your laptop and return to work.

A California lawmaker wants to prohibit your boss from regularly contacting you after hours, except in an emergency or to resolve work schedule issues. If the bill becomes law, any employer who violates it would face a fine of at least $100 per violation.

The proposed law, which would give California workers the “legal right to disconnect,” comes as norms around work have changed significantly due to the corona virus pandemic. Technologies adopted to help employees connect with their managers and colleagues remain in place whether people are working remotely or from the office. As a result, workers are more connected than ever and often feel pressured to respond at all hours.

“Everyone is stressed and working too much,” said Thressa Pine-Smith, who lives in Oakland, Calif., and works for Yuniverse, a provider of corporate wellness programs. Pine-Smith left a corporate job that was supposed to be 40 hours a week, but turned out to be 60 hours, which left her burned out. out. “We need concrete solutions to correct this. »

More than half of workers respond to work messages outside of their normal hours, study finds. 2023 survey from the Pew Research Center. To alleviate burnout and improve productivity, worker advocates and lawmakers have been think about policies such as four-day work weeks.

If adopted, California’s bill would require employers to establish a company-wide policy on their work hours and how they will respect employees’ “right to disconnect.” The law would not supersede any collective bargaining agreement and would apply only to salaried workers, as hourly and gig workers are protected under other laws. It’s necessary to keep laws up to date with modern workplace realities, said Matt Haney, a state Assembly member representing San Francisco who introduced the bill this week. Thirteen other countries, including France, Australia, Portugal and Canada already have such laws, he added.

“The villain here, if there were to be one, is not the bosses but the technology,” said Haney (D). “Everyone has a smartphone, so it’s available 24/7, which led many people to think they could never turn it off. Our laws are not updated to reflect this reality.

The bill must go through several stages and approvals before landing before the governor, who would have until September to sign it. If passed, it would take effect in January. But the measure faces opposition from employers and other business advocates, including the California Chamber of Commerce, which called the bill a “blanket rule” that constitutes a “step backwards for labor flexibility.” workplace” in a letter to Haney.

Ashley Hoffman, a policy advocate specializing in labor, employment and workers’ compensation issues in the House, said the bill does not take into account current state laws that protect workers, that it is too restrictive for employers, that it could become a legal nightmare and that it could infringe on the way employees work.

“What worries me is that if employers have to keep tabs on their employees’ schedules, they risk losing the flexibility to work when they want,” she said.

The House added the bill to its annual list of “job-killing” regulatory projects and plans to testify against it if the bill is heard.

Natalie Pierce, president of the Silicon Valley-based employment and labor law firm Gunderson Dettmer, said some of the problems with the bill cited by the House make it unlikely it will become law. of State in its current form.

“Less than half of all bills introduced in California become law,” she said. “If this becomes law, I suspect it will be watered down with expanded exceptions and its applicability will be clearer. »

She also said the consequences of similar laws in other countries suggest it could have limited practical effect on people’s work habits.

Still, some workers say the law is necessary at a time when many are suffering from burnout, which can lead to “stop smoking quietly”, or do the bare minimum. Others reinforce their boundaries.

“If someone contacts me after hours, it has to be an emergency,” said Rikeshia Davidson, an independent recruiter in Mississippi. “I specify these limits.”

She sees the legislation as a potential way to protect employees’ psychological health and attract workers, especially younger ones. She hopes states like hers can use such measures to prevent talent from leaving the region.

But some startup community leaders worry the law is too broad and hurts industries that often have to solve problems at odd hours or put in extra work before launching a product.

California, “in its continued effort to destroy itself, is once again trying to ban startups,” Michael Solana, chief marketing officer of San Francisco-based venture capital firm Founders Fund, said on X.

Haney believes the bill is already being misconstrued and said it would only require companies to be transparent about their work hour expectations. Employers would still have the freedom to dictate their policy, which could include employees being available 24 hours a day, he said.

For workers like Pine-Smith of Oakland, the law could be a turning point in workplace culture.

“We have to work to live,” she said. “But there are things we can do…that can improve the employee experience and reduce stress and anxiety.”

Tips for disconnecting from work

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