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California Contemplates Right to Disconnect Law
Apr 8, 2024

California Contemplates Right to Disconnect Law

Topics: Legal Information, New Laws & Legislation, Personnel Policies and Procedures, Wage & Hour Issues

California Assembly member Matt Haney has introduced the first “right to disconnect” law in the United States, Assembly Bill 2751 (A.B. 2751). Under the proposed legislation, employers would be required to define employees' nonworking hours in writing and prohibits employers from contacting workers during these designated nonworking hours, except in cases of “emergencies” or schedule changes.


Despite its purported good intentions, A.B. 2751 is fraught with ambiguities and questionable practical application, leaving a chasm for misinterpretation and abuse. “Emergency” is vaguely defined as “an unforeseen situation that threatens an employee, customer, or the public; disrupts or shuts down operations; or causes physical or environmental damage.” What constitutes a qualifying “unforeseen situation” or a “threat” remains woefully unclear.  A violation requires a “pattern of violation,” requiring “three or more documented instances of violating the right to disconnect” before the employee may file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner. Even the proposed penalty for violating a worker’s “right to disconnect” is unclear. If an employer is shown to have a “pattern of violation,” A.B. 2751 would impose a “fine of not less than one hundred dollars,” but no explicit ceiling. 

The bill has generated concerns and opposition from the business community. For example, the California Chamber of Commerce rightfully raised concerns about its impact on various industries and its vague provisions regarding communication boundaries and emergencies. The bill fails to acknowledge the nuances of industries with unique scheduling needs, irregular hours, or on-call requirements, and would greatly hinder workplace flexibility and commercial responsiveness.

California already has a robust framework of laws to protect employee rights that govern the employment relationship, everything from daily overtime/double-time pay requirements, meal and rest break requirements and premium payments, controlled on-call pay, and reporting time pay, just to name a few. A.B. 2751’s sponsor Matt Haney’s claim that “workers shouldn’t be punished for not being available 24/7 if they’re not being paid for 24 hours of work” seemingly ignores the fact that hourly workers receive overtime pay if they work over 8 hours, and that a salaried worker’s compensation typically accounts for longer hours and availability outside of normal working hours. 

A.B. 2751 would unnecessarily restrict communication between employers and employees, hindering functionality in times of genuine need that do not meet the threshold for an “emergency.” Its blanket restrictions fail to account for existing labor laws, exempt employees, and the diverse needs of different industries. By effectively outlawing non-emergency communication outside of regular hours, it jeopardizes essential job and business functions, and ignores the realities of modern work dynamics when companies strive to make the workplace more accessible and flexible, particularly with hybrid and remote work arrangements.

Looking Ahead

We will continue to monitor A.B. 2751 as it progresses through the legislative process. A.B. 2751 prompts important discussions about the intersection of technology, work culture, and employee rights. While the bill aims to protect workers from overwork and burnout, it also raises serious questions about flexibility and adaptability in the modern workplace. A.B. 2751 may have been introduced with the intention of safeguarding employee well-being, but its inherent ambiguities underscore its inadequacy in addressing the complex challenges of modern work-life balance, ultimately posing a hindrance rather than a solution to the issue of workplace connectivity and employee rights.

About CDF

For over 25 years, CDF has distinguished itself as one of the top employment, labor and immigration firms in California, representing employers in single-plaintiff and class action lawsuits and advising employers on related legal compliance and risk avoidance. We cover the state, with five locations from Sacramento to San Diego.

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About the Editor in Chief

Sacramento Office Managing Partner and Chair of CDF’s Traditional Labor Law Practice Group. Mark has been practicing labor and employment law in California for thirty years. His practice has a special emphasis on the representation of California employers in union-management relations and handling federal and state court litigation and administrative matters triggered by all types of employment-related disputes. He is also adept at providing creative and practical legal advice to help minimize the risks inherent in employing workers in California. He recently named “Sacramento Lawyer of the Year” in Employment Law-Management for 2021 by Best Lawyers®.
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