As of June 2022, all Ontario employers who employ more than 25 people must have a “disconnecting from work” policy. This past December, Bill 27, the Working for Workers Act, 2021 (“Bill 27”) received Royal Assent. Bill 27 requires that employers that employ 25 or more employees as of January 1 of any year will be required to have a written policy with respect to disconnecting from work.
The term “disconnecting from work” is defined in the Bill to mean “not engaging in work-related communications, including emails, telephone calls, video calls or the sending or reviewing of other messages, so as to be free from the performance of work.” “Bill 27” confirms the right of workers to not respond to electronic or telephone communications after the workday ends and protects employees from retaliation if they do not respond to work-related communications after work hours. Penalties for non-compliance or reprisal could include fines.
The concept of the right to disconnect was first introduced in France. The concerns that mobile technology could have a negative impact on work-life balance of French workers eventually led to the passing of a law to protect the rights of workers. Since then, four additional countries have adopted right-to-disconnect laws. Ontario has become the first province to enact a right-to-disconnect law in Canada following behind many European countries who have already developed “right to disconnect laws such as France (2017), Italy (2017), Spain (2018) and Belgium. More recently, Ireland, Portugal, Slovakia, Chile and Argentina have made moves to introduce similar rules.
The changing nature of work means that employers potentially have more access to workers during their private time. With more connectivity, workers may feel pressure to continue to work or be available after hours. This pressure may be heightened if they observe other workers or management conducting work during “off” hours (e.g., sending emails, particularly when expecting a response). Employers and supervisors may inadvertently reward this behaviour through promotions and bonuses. There is concern that these rewards unfairly disadvantage workers who are unable to remain connected due to family responsibilities, health reasons, or because they were not provided the tools to work remotely.
According to a Government of Canada survey there is broad worker support to have uninterrupted time away from work. The reasons given include:
- Checking and answering work-related emails interferes with family and personal time.
- Employees need more time to rest outside working hours.
- Thinking about work at home causes stress.
All work should be done during defined work hours. In the survey, employers point out that the nature of work has changed. Many organizations run continuous operations that sometimes require workers to be available outside traditional working hours. The reasons given for not allowing workers space to disconnect include:
- Business does not stop at the end of the workday.
- Employers cannot always predict when work will need to be done.
- Employees should be flexible to work whenever necessary.
- Supervisors and managers work more hours and sometimes need answers from employees.
Employers will need to define and designate parameters for contacting employees outside of working situations (such as an emergency) and incorporate the process into a “Disconnecting form work policy”. Employers can also promote disconnecting at the end of the day as:
- Part of their corporate culture.
- Teach work-life balance skills as part of workplace health and wellness programs.
- Tell workers not to respond to work communications during their time off.
- Avoid rewarding workers who continue to work outside of their designated hours.
So how do we disconnect?
The code encourages employees to take responsibility for their own work-related wellbeing, including ensuring they take their statutory rest periods. Consider the following to help you “disconnect”:
- At the end of your working hours, turn off your work communication devices or set them to silent, as appropriate.
- Keep separate devices for work activities, so you will be not able to access work e-mails on your personal devices.
- During your personal time, turn off your computer and put away files, paperwork and devices.
- Take your earned breaks and use that time to focus on something other then work.
- Discuss your hours of work with your supervisor. If you are having difficulties working these hours, explore options with your supervisor.
- Have a ritual at the end of your workday such as going for a walk.
- Dedicate a space in your home that is reserved for work, if possible. When your workday is over, do not enter that space.
What if I want to work past work hours?
While there is no law that prevent you from working in excess of your regularly scheduled hours. You should consider the impact of your health. Constant connection may harm workers by causing anxiety, depression, or burnout.
Next steps for Employers:
- Develop “Disconnecting from Work policy” in consultation with stakeholders (management, union) by June 2022.
- Provide management training on the policy and ensure that all employees receive a copy of the policy.
- Ensure that all staff receive education on the policy as part of their standard orientation package
If you require a policy for your organization, check out Workipedias “Disconnecting from Work” Policy template which is customizable for your organization. Don’t forget to check out our Disconnecting from Work Policy Briefing as well, which is readily presentable to accommodate your new policy as a Board briefing note or management presentation.