California Politician Proposes Bill Making It Illegal To Contact Employees After Working Hours

State Rep. Matt Haney says he wants to attract workers back to California. But his "right to disconnect" legislation would likely scare businesses away.


Establishing an equilibrium between your professional and personal life is no easy task. One California politician would like the government to help.

Assembly Bill 2751, drafted by state Rep. Matt Haney (D–San Francisco), would expand on prevailing California rules restricting overtime work by adding the "right to disconnect" to the state's labor regulations. 

Specifically, the legislation would require employers and employees to agree on fixed work hours in contract negotiations so that an employee then has a right to "ignore communications from the employer during nonworking hours." The bill notably deviates from its policies for labor unions, whose collective bargaining agreements would trump the legislation's requirements.

Exceptions to the bill include emergencies; disruption or damage to the public, customers, or the employee; as well as scheduling changes. Otherwise, employees would report violations to the California Labor Commissioner Office, after which companies could be subject to investigations and fines.

"Smartphones have blurred the boundaries between work and home life," Rep. Haney said. "Workers shouldn't be punished for not being available 24/7 if they're not being paid for 24 hours of work."

France became the first country in 2017 to embrace the "right to disconnect," and 12 countries have since followed. But the legislation would be the first of its kind in the U.S. if it passes, and it has elicited a polarizing reaction thus far.

Supporters of the bill point out that the U.S. is supposedly unfriendly to work-life balance. An analysis Haney referenced ranked the U.S. 53rd in the life-work balance index, although it is worth noting that the study holds other factors—not communication outside of work hours—responsible for the low ranking.

Nonetheless, Haney said he believes the bill would advance California as a "forward thinking" state in regard to workers' rights and that businesses would also benefit from less stressed and more productive workers.

Some businesses and employers disagree.

Joshua March, the founder of Conversocial and CEO of SCiFi Foods, wrote for The San Francisco Standard that a right to disconnect would obstruct innovation and slow startup growth, as well as hamstring the operation of other businesses.

Startups are messy work that often require wiggle room to adapt, as per March. "If you need to spend all weekend reworking a deck for an important Monday morning meeting, tending to lab experiments or coding for a product launch, you do it. This kind of dedication is necessary to succeed," he wrote.

A right to disconnect would disincentivize startups from basing in California, according to March, and also discourage employees who desire to work more from joining California-based startups. "The end result will be no actual change in people's lives, just more red tape, more bureaucracy and more busy work," March said.

Other advocacy groups, along with the California Chamber of Commerce, raised concerns that the bill doesn't adequately address how the law would be implemented with employees in different time zones or how salaries of exempt employees would be impacted. 

Critics also claimed the bill failed to acknowledge the unique needs of different professions, making it difficult to apply the same one-size-fits-all set of rules across the board.

In his press release, Haney said that California is losing workers to Texas and New York and that his proposal, if it becomes law, would attract workers back to the Golden State. It's very plausible, however, that it would have the opposite effect, encouraging business owners, particularly in the tech industry, to ground themselves elsewhere as the vague regulations threaten to hinder their pace and goals.

This is, after all, a fairly popular phenomenon as of late. Just between January 2018 and December 2021, 352 business headquarters left California. California's overall population has similarly been shrinking.

Correlation isn't causation, but there's certainly a trend here. And while work-life balance is important, future startups are not going to create more jobs in California if new regulations slow down young businesses.