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Employers could be punished for contacting employees after work hours in California as per new bill

If this bill becomes law, an employer who often text or call their employees during off-hours might have to pay a $100 fine.

Employers could be punished for contacting employees after work hours in California as per new bill
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Sora Shimazaki

Imagine, after meticulous work hours, you finally get to breathe and unwind when you leave the office and suddenly your phone lights up with a text or a call from your boss. Even the most passionate worker would crave some peace during their off-hours. If you have ever faced such a situation, there might be a promising solution for the employees of California. In February, San Francisco politician Matt Haney proposed a bill that discourses the legal right of California employees to ignore non-emergency calls or emails from the office after work hours, as per CBS

Image Source: California Assembly member Matt Haney speaks at a
Image Source: California Assemblymember Matt Haney speaks at a "Just Majority" nationwide bus tour press conference to call for reforms to the U.S. Supreme Court on May 16, 2023, in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for Demand Justice)

So, what would be the exact penalty to the bosses who break this law? It is a fine of $100 or even more. If Assembly Bill 2751, aiming to effectuate the employees' "right to disconnect," passes into law after multiple stages of approval, public and private employees can ignore their employer's calls or emails once the workday ends. Companies would be required to devise a suitable workplace policy synchronized with the law defining non-working hours. So, the employees can keep a count of how many times their bosses violate this policy and when it becomes more than three times, they can file a complaint with the California Labor Commissioner, which would, in turn, require the employer to pay a fine that is $100 at the least.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Ono Kosuki
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Ono Kosuki

Haney says Assembly Bill 2751 was inspired by Australia's new "right to disconnect" law, per CNBC. Apart from Australia, more than 10 countries, including Portugal, Belgium, France and Mexico, have exercised this right. If things with the approvals go well, the bill will be passed into law next January. For now, the bill applies only to the workers of California, including those who work remotely. The primary reason for Haney to propose this bill was the surging burnout among workers, particularly remote employees who are contacted by their employers during odd hours. Despite having a worker-friendly objective, the bill has faced many criticisms from various sources.

Despite welcoming this thoughtful decision, Tony Richelle, a resident of Walnut Creek who works in real estate, expressed some concerns. "An employee ought to have the opportunity to choose if they answer that call," Richelle said. "Small businesses could be hamstrung if an employee is not able to answer the phone or if an owner says, 'I can't call this person because I might get in trouble.' It might impact that business for one reason or another," he added. Also, San Diego Assemblyman Chris Ward, who voted for the bill, put forward another critical perspective. "This could open up a lot of complaints from the labor commissioner that are meant to maybe just be innocent lines of communication," Ward told The Sacramento Bee

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Katerina Bolovtsova
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Katerina Bolovtsova

Employment attorney Tom Spiggle talks about the feasibility aspect of enforcing the law. "State agencies are great but often understaffed and overworked. The chances you're going to get some kind of successful resolution after filing an administrative complaint are pretty low," Spiggle told CNBC. Despite the uncertainty that prevails around the execution of the bill if it becomes law, organizational psychologist Joanna Starek told the media channel, "People tend to be happier and perform the best when they have clear expectations of their job. Healthy breaks are a good thing for productivity and our mental health — it's just figuring out what exactly those breaks should look like."

Regardless of the commotion, Haney is determined to keep up his goal of creating better work-life boundaries for the employees of California. Realizing the concerns around this bill, Haney pointed out that it could be exercised in a way that benefits both parties. "Employees should not be retaliated against for choosing to disconnect when they are off. 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," Haney told The Sacramento Bee.


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