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Tired of your boss bugging you after hours? You want the “right to disconnect”

Meghan McCarty Carino Apr 4, 2024
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In California, AB 2751 would give workers a right to uninterrupted personal time, free from work-related calls and messages. Antonio Guillem via Getty Images

Tired of your boss bugging you after hours? You want the “right to disconnect”

Meghan McCarty Carino Apr 4, 2024
Heard on:
In California, AB 2751 would give workers a right to uninterrupted personal time, free from work-related calls and messages. Antonio Guillem via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Let’s try a little thought experiment: It’s 9 p.m., you’ve just put the kids to bed and you’re looking forward to some you time, when your phone goes off and it’s your boss. It could be an email, on a messaging platform, or maybe it’s even an old-fashioned phone call. Do you pick up, or read the message? Or do you just ignore it?

If you were in France, or any of about a dozen other countries, your right to ignore the call is protected by law. And now, a California lawmaker has proposed giving workers in the state the same “right to disconnect.” It would be the first law of its kind in the U.S. 

If you’ve fantasized about throwing your boss in jail for interrupting your precious TV time, that’s not really how these laws work, says Mark Bell, a law professor at Trinity College Dublin (Ireland has had “right to disconnect” guidelines on the books since 2021). 

I reached him just after 5 p.m. local time, and asked, “Am I breaking any laws right now?”

“Well, the law leaves it pretty flexible,” he said. “So we don’t have any rigid start times and finish times.”

Bell says companies must create clear policies around their working hours and try not to encroach on off hours. 

“I think it has really encouraged a change in culture, so maybe just people pausing and thinking about their ways of, of operating,” he said.

“It is an understandable push back to something that we should have been regularly clarifying,” said Cali Williams Yost, a business strategist who focuses on flexible and remote work. 

“It’s really been a very undefined, 24/7 free-for-all. And it’s not sustainable,” she said.

Especially for parents and other caregivers, which most workers will be at some time, said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO and founder of the advocacy group MomsRising.

“So it’s really important that we move away from a 24/7 work culture and into one where we have structures around our workday,” she said.

A growing body of research shows that workers’ inability to disconnect is damaging their health, happiness and productivity.

The California Chamber of Commerce opposes the proposed legislation, saying the “blanket rule” would be a step backward for workplace flexibility.

Will Rinehart, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute says it could be a particular challenge for tech startups, with their culture of working for a share of the company.

“You work hard, and then either you sell out that equity share or you get acquired. And that really has, I think, been a pretty successful model,” said Rinehart.

The California legislation proposes a $100 fine each time an employer violates a worker’s right to disconnect.

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