In December 2021, the Ontario Government introduced legislation providing workers with the “Right To Disconnect” from work with the Working for Workers Act, 2021. The legislation provides workers the unilateral ability to disconnect from work outside of working hours, including any digital communications channels such as emails, phone calls and smart phones.
Employers with 25 or more employees are now required to establish a written policy, outlining expectations for employees to disengage from work-related activities and communications after working hours. Ontario workers become the first in Canada to benefit from this legislation. The purpose of this law is to set boundaries around “work-life-balance” and respect a worker’s family and personal life.
With technology blending work and personal life boundaries demanding employees to be constantly connected, it has left employees feeling fatigued and experiencing emotional overload, that has only increased over time since the pandemic. Employees working remotely are also finding it more and more difficult to be “off the clock” at the end of the day, and the line between work and personal time becoming blurred with some employees experiencing burnout.
The deadline for employers to have the policy in place is June 2nd, 2022. However, developing a policy with the current legislation is challenging, as the law provides little guidance and no regulations have been passed. The law is also silent on penalties for non-compliance, so we are still at a stage of “to be determined.”
There are still many uncertainties and questions to be addressed such as; Will there be any exemptions? How will the policy apply to the C-suite executives? How to make sure it aligns with employee equity, diversity, and discrimination policies? Will certain industries, such as the essential services, expect amendments? Questions are still left to be discussed and solved before they come into compliance.
One thing is clear though, there is going to be a need for different approaches depending on nature of the work and expectations set out for employees. No policy is going to be “one fits all.” There are many challenges ahead for employers, for example how to monitor employees to ensure they are truly disconnected to comply with the law, especially remote workers. Employers will also need to train managers, so they understand the policy properly and able to enforce it.
This is the first time Canada has introduced a law of this nature but other countries such as France, Germany and Spain have had this law in place for some time. Therefore, we can look at these countries to see what a Right To Disconnect policy should entail. Below are areas of consideration for employers to review:
- How to define the scope of what the right to disconnect means
- Who does the policy apply to and how is it to be monitored for compliance?
- How will the policy be enforced and what are the consequences for a violation?
- Who will need to be trained and how often?
Since a “Right To Disconnect” policy is inter-connected with working hours, employers should also review their employment agreements, overtime and remote work policies, to determine how they will interact with the concept of the policy.
Employers may also want to consider using technology for monitoring purposes. Countries with similar laws have implemented policies where systems shut down at a specific time, forcing employees to disconnect from their emails and smartphones.
Even though this law is very early in its implementation, there is no doubt a major shift will occur in work culture and expectations in the workplace.
If you need assistance or have any questions on developing a Right To Disconnect Policy, please feel free to give us a call as we would be happy to help.