Focus on the right to disconnect and the Labor Act for workers in Ontario | Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP
Canadian Province Implements Right to Disconnect Act
The pandemic has changed the landscape of an employee’s entire working life. Employees have been uprooted from their normal routines and forced to work from home. The result? Growing concerns about burnout and blurring the boundaries between work and personal life. This alert will explore Canada’s recent legislative policy aimed at employee well-being and giving its citizens the right to disconnect.
Bill 27, also known as the Working for Workers Act (2021), was introduced to address growing concerns about employee well-being and their ability to distinguish between work and personal life . The bill introduced a number of changes to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act (2000), but the most significant change is the right to disconnect – an amendment requiring employers of 25 employees or more have a written policy in place regarding employees’ right to disconnect from work. . The policy was finally implemented on June 2, 2022.
What is the right to disconnect?
Western culture has in many ways become an “always on” culture. Due to the internet and our other means of communication, we expect an instant response and always be available 24/7. The corporate culture has set up this notion requiring employees to be always connected, making the idea of “switching off” even harder for workers to understand or even contemplate.
The pandemic has made this task even more difficult. According to a 2020 Rollins School of Public Health Survey, “one of the most widely reported negative impacts of working from home was the struggle to separate work and personal life.” Of those surveyed, 56% agreed that “working from home makes it harder to ‘disconnect’ at the end of the day.” Canadian law further reinforces the meaning of being able to “switch off” or “disconnect”. In the legislation, “disconnecting from work” is defined as not engaging in work-related communications, including emails, phone calls, video calls and other messages. Its goal? Allow employees “to be free to perform the work”.
Concerns about the right to disconnect
After its implementation, concerns arose regarding scope, application and enforcement. From the outset, the amendment leaves employers with the ultimate task of determining the content of their policy. As a result, many companies create policies that lack substance and enforcement, leaving employees to question their effectiveness. In addition to the political issues, questions regarding the consequences of implementation continued to arise, including increased stress levels, increased pressure to meet deadlines and a lack of flexibility.
As the Canadian government as a whole studies the possibility of prohibiting federal employees from answering phone calls outside of business hours, the bill specifies that if a company has multiple offices, the written policy only applies. to employees in Ontario. As written now, it is unclear whether there will be exceptions for employers and employees under the right to disconnect policy. Under the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000 occupations such as agriculture, construction, health care, manufacturing, hospitality, law, law enforcement and transportation are exempt.
What does this mean for the United States?
Efforts to address burnout and work-life balance issues in the United States have been slim. Individual companies have begun to tackle this ever-growing problem, but legislative efforts are non-existent. For example, Volkswagen, a German company, introduced policies in 2011 to configure mail servers so that emails could only be sent 30 minutes before the start of the working day until 30 minutes after it ended. and not at all on weekends. Implementing a similar right for employees to disconnect will require employers to take the necessary care to create a written policy and enforce its contents. Some useful things to consider include setting employee expectations, creating scenarios that may arise from its implementation and how employees should respond, and management’s obligation to ensure effective implementation. . Although the United States has yet to make legislative efforts to combat the growing employee well-being crisis, employers can begin to look inward and enforce a culture that nurtures and encourages its employees. allowing them to disconnect freely from the workplace.