From Flexibility to Fines: California's Controversial Move Towards Regulating Work/Life Balance

Unsplash/National Cancer Institute

If there is anything California’s state legislators love to do, it’s meddle in the affairs of corporate America. Progressive lawmakers have always had a penchant for purporting to champion the cause of the worker class and have passed numerous forms of legislation to this end.

In the Golden State, a lawmaker has proposed a bill granting workers the “right to disconnect” from work communications outside their working hours. The initiative, supposedly intended to promote work-life balance, especially in the age of remote employment, has raised questions about whether this type of legislation is even necessary in the first place.

Spoiler alert: It’s not.

The bill, which California state Assemblymember Matt Haney introduced, is currently headed to the Committee on Labor and Employment.

With the rise of remote work, many employees find themselves accountable to employers outside of traditional working hours, blurring the boundaries between time at home with family and time on the clock.

The bill, proposed by Assemblymember Matt Haney, D-San Francisco, would fine companies $100 for a “pattern of violation” of the law, which would mean “three or more documented instances of violating the right to disconnect.” Employees and employers would be forced to provide written agreements setting non-working hours that employees would be able to ignore work communications during.

The “emergency” exemption, as defined, would allow for employees to be required to respond to matters regarding an “unforeseen situation that threatens an employee, customer, or the public; disrupts or shuts down operations; or causes physical or environmental damage.”

The bill notably excludes unionized workers subject to active collective bargaining agreements.

Pretty much anyone can appreciate having a work/life balance. Most people already seek employment with companies that will allow them to enjoy their time off.

A Mindspace survey revealed that an overwhelming 82 percent of respondents indicated they expect their employers to respect this work/life balance. These findings suggest that companies failing to respect these expectations might lose out on having the most talented workers.

If this is the case, then it is certainly not in a company’s best interests to treat their employees as mindless numbers who only exist to benefit their bottom line. In an environment in which companies must compete against other businesses, it would not make much sense to take a slave-driver approach to their employees.

Higher turnover rates, along with alienating talented workers who could bring their skills to the table, are already motivating corporations to respect work/life balance. Indeed, it is one of the most effective selling points for companies seeking to attract talent. Market forces have already driven significant change in this area, which makes government meddling all the more unnecessary.

Moreover, if the government intervenes to enforce work/life balance, it will stifle innovation and the ability to adapt in the private sector.

It is also important to consider how such legislation might disadvantage businesses that rely on flexibility and timely responses from their employees. In some cases, a company might need employees who are willing to be on call even outside of regular working hours. Government meddling will only make these enterprises less productive, which could have a pernicious impact on California’s economy.

In general, government interference in corporate America doesn’t make anything better; indeed, it typically creates more problems and makes it harder for companies to thrive. Yes, work/life balance is essential. But when the state imposes these types of regulations, nobody truly benefits.

As the workplace continues to evolve, corporations must be able to adapt. Using the state to force companies to operate in a way that is acceptable to progressives is not only a flagrant example of government overreach, but it will also make it harder for companies and their employees to flourish.


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