‘Right To Ignore Your Boss’ Bill Could Make Work-Life Balance Worse for Employees

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San Francisco Democrat Assemblyman Matt Haney wants to give California workers the right to ignore their bosses.

Under Assembly Bill 2751, employees would have the “right to disconnect” from calls, e-mails and texts from their employer outside of normal working hours.

Haney told the Bay Area News Group that “smartphones have blurred the boundaries between work and home life,” and that “workers shouldn’t be punished for not being available 24/7 if they are not being paid for 24 hours of work.”

It’s a shockingly simplistic view of how things work in today’s high tech economy.

Take my work-life routine.  Frequently, I send and respond to e-mails between 6 and 8 AM before I go into the office.  On weekends, I typically work about a half-day total over Saturday and Sunday, finalizing PRI’s podcast, editing blogs and op-eds, or completing expense reports.

I don’t do this because PRI expects me to – I do so to make my work-life balance better.

By responding to e-mails in the morning or working a little on the weekend, I can clear smaller items off my plate so I can focus on big picture items during the week.  Starting my day early, I can better position PRI to take advantage of what’s going on the news.  I can also address potential problems before they grow out of hand.

I would have a more hectic and stressful work week if Haney succeeded and I was prohibited from working at my discretion outside normal working hours.

Haney argues that “this bill has a lot of flexibility.”

But enacting such a bill would actually take away people’s flexibility.  Some want a more flexible schedule, starting earlier in the day or taking time off at midday to meet family obligations. (Ironically, many of Haney’s fellow legislative liberals and state labor unions have opposed efforts to give workers greater freedom to work more flexible 10-hour-a-day, 4-day work weeks.)

Working untraditional work schedules, you might need to be available after hours but it would be worth it to achieve the desired work-life balance.  AB 2751 would make these trade-offs employees willingly make much harder to realize.

The thinking behind the bill is a relic of an era long forgotten, harkening back to when shop stewards and union bosses held sway, and loud whistles signaled “quitting time” at the factory.

It would hinder innovation and entrepreneurship, key to a growing California economy.  You can’t innovate if you can’t get feedback on a project in real time – even if that time is on the weekend.

Lots of things happen before 9 AM and after 5 PM.  Businesses have opportunities that must be acted upon quickly outside normal working hours.  They must also troubleshoot external threats that can’t wait until Monday morning.  Employees must be available to interact with customers and coworkers in time zones far away, or incorporate late feedback into the big presentation that will be made first thing the next day.  Some departments, such as IT, need to be on call to handle websites being hacked or systems going down unexpectedly.

The economy won’t stop because Sacramento lawmakers think bosses shouldn’t expect workers to answer their calls after 5 PM.  These opportunities are just going to be realized by employers outside of California’s borders – and our workers, economy, and tax revenue will suffer.

Haney cites Australia’s right to ignore your boss law as an inspiration for his proposals.  But it also shows the law can backfire on workers looking for the change.

Analyzing the Australia proposal, employment expert Sue Ellson told 7 News Australia that “the bill could lead to staff receiving an allowance for after-hours work.”

However, “if an availability allowance or provision is made, it may be even more difficult for some people to switch off from work,” she said.

Worse, an Australia business executive told news.com.au that the law could lead to people not getting a promotion if they ignored texts from their bosses.

“If you’re a senior executive you have to accept calls and you certainly would not get a promotion to that sort of level if you didn’t,” he said. “My gut feeling is that it’s a total over-reaction on something that’s not an issue.”

That would be the ultimate irony if Haney’s bill becomes law, but it wouldn’t be totally unexpected.  Workers typically don’t benefit as promised when Sacramento pigeonholes them into one-size-fits-all mandates that don’t work in a complex and changing global economy.

Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s vice president of marketing and communications.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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