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California could be first state to give workers right to ignore boss's after-hours calls, texts, emails

John Woolfolk and Julia Prodis Sulek, The Mercury News on

Published in Business News

Victoria Ortiz was enjoying a turkey leg at a Disneyland France cafe with her husband and son two summers ago when her phone pinged. It was a text message from her boss: “Check your email.” So back at the hotel later that day, she dutifully interrupted her European vacation and fired up her computer.

“It’s the rat race for sure — 100 percent the rat race,” Ortiz, 46, an accountant at a San Jose, California, medical devices company, said Monday.

The smartphone, Silicon Valley’s signature gift to modernity, has made it easier than ever for work to intrude into personal and family time, tilting work-life balance further toward the job. Now a California lawmaker says there must be guardrails to keep that in check.

“Smartphones have blurred the boundaries between work and home life,” said Assemblyman Matt Haney, a San Francisco Democrat, who announced a bill Monday, AB 2751 that would give employees a “right-to-disconnect” from emails, texts and calls after work hours.

And, no, you don’t have to be at Disneyland or across an ocean to ignore your boss.

“Workers shouldn’t be punished for not being available 24/7 if they’re not being paid for 24 hours of work,” Haney said. “People have to be able to spend time with their families without being constantly interrupted at the dinner table or their kids’ birthday party, worried about their phones and responding to work.”

 

France pioneered such laws in 2017 and a number of other countries around the world have adopted similar legislation for at least some of their workforce, most recently Australia. New York City began exploring a law in 2019, but California would be the first U.S. state to adopt such legislation.

Haney said his bill makes exceptions for after-work contact during emergencies, to discuss scheduling and for collective bargaining agreements with organized labor. Industries with traditionally late or erratic hours or that require workers to be on-call still could reach out to workers as long as on-call time is compensated and non-contact hours are clearly stated in worker contracts.

“This bill has a lot of flexibility to make sure that it works for all California businesses,” Haney said.

But the California Chamber of Commerce is opposed, arguing “AB 2751’s one-size-fits-all mandate ignores and conflicts with existing laws.”

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