White-collar professionals are having a hard time. More than half of workers around the world identify mounting work stress as their top concern, according to the Deloitte 2024 Global Human Capital Trends report. They are increasingly looking to their employers for support, to prioritize work-life balance and flexibility in their careers, especially in the digital age where people are seemingly shackled to their electronics.

A new proposed legislation could make employees less accessible to their bosses after hours, leaving them free to enjoy their time outside of work. Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) introduced on Monday Assembly Bill 2571, which, if passed, would make California the first state to guarantee workers the “right to disconnect,” eliminating the pressure to respond to calls, emails and texts outside of working hours.

“The entire concept resonated with what I’ve seen during and after the pandemic, when the lines between when you’re working and when you’re not have become so blurred that, for many people, they never have a time to switch off,” said Haney in a Zoom interview with me on Thursday.

According to the assemblyman, employees feel the need to always be on, an issue he said will not bode well for “work productivity and the well-being of our residents, family life and emotional and social health. ”

With smartphones obscuring the boundaries between work and home life, Haney affirmed, “If there had to be a villain in the story, it’s the technology, not the boss.” Companies now have abundant technological avenues for managers to contact employees late at night, on the weekends, while on vacation and during the holidays and milestone life events.

Unless things change, there will be a constant deluge of texts, emails, video meeting requests and phone calls disrupting workers’ lives.

The Right To Disconnect

AB 2751 requires that all California employers outline organizational action plans to demonstrate compliance with the new laws, as well as explicitly establish working and non-working hours. The ability to investigate and fine companies that violate employees’ right to disconnect will fall under the jurisdiction of the California Labor Commissioner’s office.

Haney’s bill permits both public and private employees to disengage from work once they meet their required hours of work. Instead of constantly being harassed and nudged by bosses and co-workers outside of the traditional working hours, employees can safely, and without reprisal, forgo keeping up with correspondences during the evenings, weekends or holidays.

“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,” Haney stated.


There may be times in which employers are allowed to contact workers after office hours. These circumstances include emergencies that require immediate attention, a natural disaster, an accident or other unforeseen events that could significantly impact the business or the well-being of individuals.

Also, some laws may provide flexibility for essential services or professions that inherently require around-the-clock availability, such as healthcare, public safety or certain critical infrastructure roles. However, even in these cases, employers are typically required to respect employees’ rest periods and compensate them appropriately for any work performed outside of regular hours.

Haney doesn’t have a dogmatic approach to the right to disconnect. Instead, he calls for empowering businesses to create their own flexible policies regarding interactions between employers and employees after traditional working hours. He advocates for “updating our laws to meet the needs of the modern workplace, which includes common sense and common decency.”

Haney recognizes that people working at startups, investment banks, in the legal profession and other fast-paced sectors are usually required to log in long hours, nights and weekends. In these instances, the companies can have “mutual agreement, consent and clarity” over what is fair and what is not.

“This bill has a lot of flexibility to make sure that it works for all California businesses and types of employment, including those sectors that may require on-call work or longer hours. Many of California’s larger employers are already abiding by right-to-disconnect laws in other countries and choosing to grow their companies rapidly in those places,” said the San Francisco assemblymember.

Technology’s Impact On Well-Being And Productivity

The right to disconnect has gained traction outside of the United States, which currently ranks 53rd out of 60 countries in Remote’s Global Life-Work Balance Index.

France was the first country to adopt the right to disconnect in 2017, with 12 other countries following suit, including Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Columbia, Greece, Mexico, Portugal, Italy and Spain.

These nations are “offering their citizens more of a balance in their lives, and we are still trying to squeeze every ounce of work out of our residents,” Haney acknowledged. “This is something we have to be more open, honest and intentional about in modern work culture.”

Research by the International Journal of Management and Applied Research found that the overuse of digital tools is not sustainable for humans and can be deleterious to the well-being of workers, leading to burnout. A person’s ability to jump on a video call or check emails, due to the ease and proliferation of technology, has led to increased workloads.

The constant state of being plugged in can catalyze higher levels of stress, anxiety, sleep disorders and overall deterioration of well-being. Employees exhibiting a weaker level of well-being are more likely to demonstrate increased presenteeism. The study links poor well-being to poor productivity.

In 2023, 65% of employees suffered from burnout, according to data from isolved, a human resources management system. Burnout leads to disengagement, which costs U.S. businesses an estimated $1.9 trillion in lost productivity, Gallup reported. “Employees still feel more detached from—and less satisfied with—their organizations and are less likely to connect to the companies’ mission and purpose or to feel someone cares about them as a person,” the Gallup report stated.

Source: Forbes

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