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A guide to implementing workplace boundaries

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You’re out of town on a work trip and have nothing better to do than check your emails after dinner. You click the mail icon and see a work emergency pop up. While you need help preparing for a hectic morning, your team is unreachable due to “do not disturb” mode until 8:30 a.m. Is this a nightmare or a sign of a healthy workplace with strong boundaries? Welcome to the era of the right to disconnect. Where does your organization stand?

Outlined below is: 1, the origin of these policies; 2, considerations; and 3, implementation tips.

Origins of the right to disconnect

It’s one thing to tell workers it’s OK for them to unplug after hours, but it’s another to enshrine a guarantee into policies and say they can’t face negative repercussions from management for unplugging. The “right to disconnect” movement stems from the pursuit of the guarantee that workers can go home and spend time disconnected from work. It provides concrete protections to employees who wish to unplug from their employers during nonworking hours. The key, essentially, is providing express freedom to employees who wish to ignore work-related calls, emails, texts, or other messages after working hours or when they’re not at their proverbial desk.

While there are no states, cities, or other local jurisdictions that have passed a Right-to-Disconnect law in the United States (other countries such as France and Germany have), a few have taken a shot: New York, California, and Washington. This list is not a rag-tag group of states pushing forward this policy. Those states are typically at the forefront of new employment law protections.

Considerations related to the right to disconnect

Here are five things to consider before implementing a do-not-disturb policy:

  • Is it viable for your business? Law firms may have clients who are arrested after midnight, or medical providers may have the need to perform critical procedures any time of day. The last thing you’ll want is to find a “do not disturb” message when you reach out to your team.
  • Where are your workers? As workforces become more dispersed around the country — and around the world — you may have teams that span a range of different regions and time zones. If your team leaders are on the West Coast and they work with East Coast counterparts, it may be challenging to restrict communications after 2 p.m. Pacific Time.
  • What do your customers expect? If it is critical to offer immediate services and responsiveness to these key stakeholders, you may need to offer 24/7 coverage. You may need to take staffing and labor costs into account if you want to implement some sort of do-not-disturb practice but need to provide broad coverage to carry out your company mission. It may require you to increase your workforce size (perhaps through temporary help or alternative staffing models).
  • What are competitors doing? Your industry or geographic location may dictate your next step as you work to retain and attract talent — and if your neighbor is offering a perk, you may need to do the same to keep pace.
  • What is the workplace culture? Employee feedback can provide valuable insights into how such a policy will impact their work-life balance, productivity, and overall satisfaction. Incorporating their views can also increase buy-in if a policy is implemented.


If you’ve gotten this far and want to consider implementation, here are six points to consider:

  • Clearly define employee rights, detailing what they can do and how using do-not-disturb modes affects performance reviews and career progression.
  • Explicitly state when employees can and cannot use do-not-disturb features, ensuring the policy is specific and understandable.
  • Encourage the use of do-not-disturb or no-notification features available on basic email and smartphones and instruct managers to respect these settings.
  • Verify and implement do-not-disturb options on communication platforms like Slack and Teams and consider advanced features like auto-deleting after-hour emails if supported.
  • Include emergency contact protocols in the policy, ensuring they are strict enough to prevent policy dilution but flexible for genuine emergencies.
  • Ensure policy enforcement by monitoring compliance, establishing reporting processes for concerns, and training managers on policy implications and leadership by example at all levels.

In conclusion, implementing a do-not-disturb policy in the workplace demands a nuanced understanding and adherence to legal and organizational frameworks. Employers should seek guidance from legal experts to ensure their policies harmonize with existing laws and company culture. This careful preparation and consultation ensure that the policy will be successful and sustainable.

Stephen Scott is a partner in the Portland office of Fisher Phillips, a national firm dedicated to representing employers’ interests in all aspects of workplace law.