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California Right to Disconnect — What You Need to Know About the Proposed Bill

Written By: Mo Eldessouky Updated On: April 17, 2024 | Read Time: 7 Minutes

California Right to Disconnect — What is it?

California has recently proposed a new labor law: The Right to Disconnect. While employers may object, this law could mean digital freedom for workers across the golden state. It is meant to be the answer for workers that need personal time, mental space, and the ability to sleep, make plans, and spend time with family without answering work messages at all hours.

What is the Right to Disconnect?

The Right to Disconnect is an employee’s right to ignore work messages during off-work hours.

Anyone who has had an overly intrusive workplace culture or unreasonably demanding job will immediately see the value:

  • No more dinnertime phone calls
  • No more late-night texts
  • No more “one more thing” assignments off the clock
  • No more unpaid support hours

Instead, employees will be able to switch their phones to silent, close their laptops, and actually relax after work. Even more importantly, your employer would be prevented—by law—from penalizing you for not picking up, texting back, or checking your email every five minutes during official off-work hours.

Introducing the Right to Disconnect

The Right to Disconnect law was introduced by San Francisco Assemblyman Matt Haney, inspired by similar laws implemented in other parts of the world. This would make California the first state in the country to provide workers with the legal right to ignore non-emergency calls and emails while they are off the clock.

The bill is still in early stages, and is waiting to pass through several approval requirements. However, it could be signed by September, and might go into effect as early as January 2025.

The Right to Disconnect bill follows California’s trend of protecting the worker.

Who Would Be Potentially Eligible to Disconnect?

It’s important to remember that this proposed bill has not yet been passed into California law. However, if it were implemented, which workers would be given the protected right to fully disconnect during off-work hours?

Salaried workers are the focus of the bill, but it would also set a precedent to help wage employees defend their existing legal rights not to be made to work without pay, work over 40 hours a week without overtime, or resist abusive/unreasonable scheduling.

Salaried Workers

The bill proposes to primarily protect salaried workers, who are expected to work “as much as necessary” to get the job done.

Salaried workers have fewer on-hours vs off-hours protections than hourly workers, even in California. This, combined with our world of always-on communication technology has led some bosses to expect their salaried employees to check work emails often outside of work and respond immediately to work-related messages even when they are supposed to be resting and enjoying the “life” half of their work-life balance.

Existing Protections for Hourly Workers

Why only salaried workers? The answer is that California law already protects hourly workers from off-hours communication.

Officially, legally, hourly workers must be paid for any time they spend on work emails, answering questions from employers or clients, or doing work-related tasks even if the work is outside of work hours and performed at home.

Any time an employer is in control of your time, especially with the threat of penalties for non-participation, hourly workers are “on the clock” and must be fairly paid. This is true when standing in line for bag checks, when on-call and not allowed to make other plans, and when your employer insists that you answer email and texts outside of working hours. 

While there is no law that protects hourly workers from intrusive work communication, the law does make it possible to demand pay for these off-schedule hours of work.

Right to Disconnect for Everyone

California law already defines protections for non-salaried workers, but these rights often go undefended. The Right to Work law would set a precedent that workers can stand up for their off-work time, either by demanding overtime pay or refusing to answer without penalties, and the law will back them up.

Exploring the Details of the Right to Disconnect

Of course, even if/when the Right to Disconnect bill is passed, employers will still send off-work messages and sometimes expect a response. Let’s take a closer look at the details and what you might expect in practical terms.

Sending vs Ignoring

The Right to Disconnect generally relates to an employee’s ability to safely ignore work messages during off-hours. Many companies operate outside a single day’s shift, which means work messages are likely to generate while an employee is enjoying their off-work hours. Updates, questions, and so on can accumulate as usual, as long as employees are not required to read or respond to them until the start of their next on-work scheduled shift.

This includes endless texts from your boss – as long as you are not penalized for ignoring the messages until work time begins again.


However, the structure of the California bill focuses on preventing employers from bombarding their employees with messages. Particularly with the expectation that those messages be responded to outside of working hours. Penalties are proposed to be enforced if an employee can prove that their employer is abusing the Right to Disconnect by sending messages and expecting answers.


There are two exceptions to the proposed Right to Disconnect. The first is emergencies, which must qualify and be proven to be legally valid emergencies if called into question. The second is scheduling. Provided it does not take much time, employers can send schedule updates and request a timely confirmation or coordination from the employee in arranging the next set of on-work tasks and hours.

How the Right to Disconnect Would Be Implemented

If the proposed Right to Disconnect bill were implemented, salaried employees could expect a standardized procedure where off-work hours are defined and then protected by law.

Here’s a breakdown of how the Right to Disconnect would work under the current bill structure.

1. Employers Set Official On-Work and Off-Work Hours

Employers will be required to define official on-work and off-work hours. They will build a schedule and label which hours are reserved for off-work communication policies.

2. Employers Refrain from Sending Messages (or Expecting Responses) in Off-Hours

During defined off-work hours, employers are expected to minimize communications with an employee and expect zero response until the next set of on-work hours. While messages may accumulate, they must not be considered required for response before on-work hours recommence.

3. Employees Can Report Employers for Off-Hours Expectations

If employers violate the Right to Disconnect by sending endless or demanding messages during off-work hours – or by penalizing employees for not responding during off-work hours, the employee will be able to report their employer to the California Labor Commissioner.

4. Employers Pay No Less than a $100 Fine for Each Violation

If the employer is found guilty of Right to Disconnect protections, they will be fined no less than $100 per violation.

What Hurdles Are Standing in the Way?

What is standing in between the CA Right to Disconnect bill and seeing it made into a law? The first hurdle is businesses that do not feel they should operate entirely by on-work and off-work hours. The second is a desire to refine the bill beyond it’s current details and proposed policies.

Tech Companies and Startups Object

Tech companies are raising a major objection to the Right to Disconnect bill. In fact, it has been spun into quite the issue without much founding in the actual details. It is being claimed as a killer of startup companies, late-night work sessions, and non-standard company cultures. 

However, when you examine the terms of the bill as written, it does none of those things.

  • If you are being paid by the hour, the same labor laws apply. The only difference is workers have a clearer right to call after-hours communications payable labor, or refuse to work without pay.
  • Companies with salaried workers can (and must) define on-work and off-work hours. That’s not so hard, and protects your right to off-work hours.
  • Employees report violations. If the employee doesn’t object, then penalties are unlikely to be enforced.

Bill Refinement

Lastly, like any piece of legislation, there are likely to be adjustments and refinements to the Right to Disconnect bill before it is passed. Many who do not have philosophical objections to the policy are still holding out, requesting improvements to the terms and penalties outlined in the bill. 

When Might the Right to Disconnect Bill be Enacted?

We could see the Right to Disconnect signed into law as early as January of 2025.

If the bill is accepted as-is or passes soon with slight adjustments, the policies probably will not become active until 2025 or 2026. This is because major changes to labor laws are often given a “lead time” to allow businesses to adapt to compliance before the law becomes active and penalties can be enforced.

Are Your Disconnection Rights Already Being Violated?

Right now, employees have more “Right to Disconnect” than they realize. Are you being penalized for not answering your phone or email after work hours? Are you going crazy because your boss won’t leave you alone when you’re off the clock? 

People who are paid by the hour (ie: most workers) already have a “right to disconnect”, in that you have a right to overtime, to reasonable breaks, and to refuse to work without pay – without being fired or punished at work. You also have the right to privacy regarding both personal calls and social media activity.

Is your employer demanding after-hours work without paying for your time? Is your employer engaging in wage theft or violating the terms of your employment contract with overtime requests without pay? You can defend your rights to fair pay and a reasonable work-life balance with the help of the employment lawyers at  Eldessouky Law.

Are you currently experiencing issues off the clock? Whether its unpaid overtime or a form of wage theft you may already qualify.  Don’t wait on this bill. Contact our California employment lawyers today to discuss the details of your situation and how to defend your employee rights.

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