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Boss bothering you after hours? That could be illegal soon in California

A person lying down is holding and looking at a smartphone with a blank white screen.
AB 2751 would establish a right to ignore work calls, emails and texts sent after-hours. | Source: Erdark

The default notification sound on Slack, the popular workplace messaging application, is called “knock brush.” If you’re an office worker in 2024, chances are you’ve heard it in your nightmares. Unlike a cell phone ringtone or ding of a text message, the Slack sound can only mean one thing, night or day: There’s work that needs your attention. 

Now a San Francisco lawmaker is out to change that, via a new bill that guards your private time against unwanted intrusion from your boss. 

State Assemblymember Matt Haney, who represents San Francisco, has introduced AB 2751, which introduces a so-called “right to disconnect” by ignoring calls, emails and texts sent after agreed-upon working hours. 

“I do think it’s fitting that California, which has created many of these technologies, is also the state that introduces how we make it sustainable and update our protections for the times we live in and the world we’ve created,” Haney told The Standard. (Slack is based in SoMa on Howard Street.)

“If you’re working a 9-to-5 job, you shouldn’t be expected to be working 24/7. That should be available to everyone, regardless of the existence of smartphones.”

Following France’s implementation of a right-to-disconnect policy in 2017, several other countries have followed suit, including Spain, Ireland and Portugal. If passed, AB 2751 would be the first law of its kind in any state in the U.S.

The proposed law would legally establish a right to disconnect in California state law and require every employer in the state to have a companywide policy or action plan communicating how it will implement that standard.

For salaried employees, potential periods of late-night or round-the-clock work would be explicitly delineated in employment contracts. For example, the round-the-clock work might be deemed necessary near the end of a legislative session or in the lead-up to a major product announcement. (Or, say, for an article with a rapidly impending deadline.)

The law is likely to attract critics among those who already see California businesses as too hampered by red tape and coddled workforces. In Silicon Valley, the very notion of work/life balance has been a source of contention, with prominent investors such as Jason Calacanis and Michael Moritz arguing that startups must embrace the longer hours of Chinese tech companies or be out-competed by them. (Moritz is the chairman of The Standard.) 

Haney said the bill is meant to return Californians to an earlier age of work in which the day was more clearly split between labor and time for recreation, family and rest. 

“Right now, it’s very murky, and people are left expecting to be working and responsive all the time, and that’s just not sustainable, and I believe [it] is impacting their well-being,” Haney said.

As for whether any law could put the always-on genie back into the bottle, Haney said he’s seen interesting ways the right to disconnect has become acculturated in other countries. For example, auto-reply emails that state an employee is currently off the clock are common, as well as automatic disclaimers from managers that their messages need not be answered immediately.  

“We want all Californian workers and employers to just be aware when people should be working and not working, and just be more upfront with each other in ways that they aren’t right now,” he said.

Enforcement of the law would be done via the state Department of Labor, which could levy fines starting at $100 per incident for employers with a bad habit of requiring after-work communications. 

Haney said that he decided after discussions with the labor committee to take a flexible approach to the legislation, in contrast to the more punitive stance taken by some countries. He noted that many large multinational companies already have to abide by these protections for a growing portion of their workforce.

A few exemptions to the right to disconnect exist under the current bill. Firstly, collectively bargained employment agreements like union contracts would supersede the right to disconnect. Additionally, employers are allowed to contact workers in the case of emergencies for scheduling reasons. 

Paul Secunda, an employment attorney who authored a law journal article on the right to disconnect, argued for an introduction of the law based on the negative impact of overwork on psychological and physical health.

“There has been increasing concern about this issue given how Covid and the remote workplace took away the physical boundaries between home and work,” Secunda said.

The rise-and-grind VCs notwithstanding, Haney said as California and San Francisco remain in the race for global talent, pushing forward workers’ rights that can function as a competitive advantage.

“We’re not going to win a race to the bottom for our workforce. It’s about making their work/life balance sustainable,” Haney said. “It’s not helping worker productivity when people have no time to rest. It actually makes things worse.”

AB 2751 will be heard next in front of the Assembly Labor Committee.

Kevin Truong can be reached at