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Weekend Discussion: Should After-Hours Emails Be Illegal?

do not disturb sign hanging on a door

The irony of me writing and publishing this on a Sunday.

On April Fools’ Day, California Assemblymember Matt Haney announced he’s introduced AB 2751, a proposal that “guarantees California workers uninterrupted personal and family time by creating a ‘right-to-disconnect’ from emails, texts, and calls after work hours.”

His office’s statement explains:

The bill mandates that all California employers create and publish company-wide action plans to implement the new right-to-disconnect laws as well as requiring that all employment contracts in the state clearly outline working and non-working hours. AB 2751 also empowers the California Labor Commissioner’s office to investigate and fine employers that exhibit a pattern of right-to-disconnect violations.

“Work has changed drastically compared to what it was just 10 years ago. Smartphones have blurred the boundaries between work and home life,” said Haney. “Workers shouldn’t be punished for not being available 24/7 if they’re not being paid for 24 hours of work. 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.”

The bill’s language specifically says:

Existing law, including statutory provisions and orders of the Industrial Welfare Commission, as enforced by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, regulates the wages, hours, and working conditions of employees. Existing law makes it a crime for an employer to require or cause any employee to work for longer hours than those fixed or under conditions of labor prohibited by an order of the commission or to violate or refuse or neglect to comply with specified statutes on wages, hours, and working conditions or any order or ruling of the commission.

This bill would require a public or private employer to establish a workplace policy that provides employees the right to disconnect from communications from the employer during nonworking hours, except as specified. The bill would define the “right to disconnect” to mean that, except for an emergency or for scheduling, as defined, an employee has the right to ignore communications from the employer during nonworking hours. The bill would require nonworking hours to be established by written agreement between an employer and employee. The bill would authorize an employee to file a complaint of a pattern of violation of the bill’s provisions with the Labor Commissioner, punishable by a specified civil penalty.

If this bill gets anywhere, it would make California the first state in which employees are legally entitled to a “right to disconnect” after hours.

Yay or nay?

3 thoughts on “Weekend Discussion: Should After-Hours Emails Be Illegal?

  1. This isn’t a problem that needed legislation, this is the latest political red meat. Just ignore the email / phone call until you’re back in your personal working hours. Plenty of high functioning professionals work ~9-5 then answer emails again for an hour or so in the evening.

    1. I’m with you. The concept of “right to disconnect” is great and he’s right about how much our 24/7 smartphone situation sucks but I don’t trust a piece of legislation to solve a deeply embedded social phenomenon.

      Plus I tend to write emails myself at like 2am when an idea strikes, I don’t expect anyone to actually respond immediately. Individuals and teams need to set clear and reasonable boundaries and expectations amongst themselves.

  2. It shouldn’t be illegal to send an after hours email or text. But, it needs to be illegal to expect said communication to be answered after hours.

    Businesses can be spread across time zones, and even in the same office not all employees will necessarily have the same schedule. Some examples.

    Suppose I am in Georgia (Eastern time) and my boss in California (Pacific time) sends an email at 4:30p.m. At that time (7:30 p.m. Eastern) I have finished dinner and am reading to the kids. That should be perfectly legal. But the expectation that I am going to respond before the next business day that I am in the office should be illegal.

    The second is an office that allows employees flexible hours. Suppose my manager is a night owl and I am a morning person. I arrive at 6 a.m. and leave at 3 p.m. he arrives at 10 a.m. and leaves at 7 or 8 p.m. him sending a message at the end of his business day for me to read when I get in would be fine. The expectation that I am going to read it late in the evening is wrong.

    Now mix the 2 and you might get little to no overlap in work hours.

    Yes, a right to disconnect needs to be law or employers will ignore the problem. But make the law against consequences for ignoring communication until the next time the employee is in the office.

    An ignored request to cover a shift at the last minute needs to be taken as a no with no consequences.

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