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The “right to disconnect”: A need or a nice to have?

Guest
November 9, 2021

On October 25, 2021, Ontario’s government introduced Bill 27: Working for Workers Act, 2021. Although there are several notable changes (such as the banning of non-compete provisions), one of the most headline grabbing changes has been the introduction of “disconnect from work” requirements, which would be a first for Canada.

Under the proposed legislation, larger employers will be required to develop a “disconnecting from work policy”. “Disconnecting from work” is defined 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.” The actual policy requirements are expected to be prescribed in a regulation, so the scope and impact of this requirement remains uncertain.

At the federal level, the Canadian government is considering “right to disconnect” legislation as well, on the basis that ‘hyper-connectivity’ can be detrimental to health, and can also disadvantage workers who are unable to respond to emails after-hours (for example, those with child or eldercare responsibilities).

Although the Ontario legislation has grabbed Canadian headlines, the concept of a “right to disconnect” is not new, and is gaining traction. This type of legislation has been in place in France since 2017. In January 2021, the European Parliament passed a legislative initiative recommending implementing an EU directive allowing remote workers to disconnect outside work hours, with no adverse consequences. In April 2021, Ireland introduced a “Code of Practice” relating to the right to disconnect. The examples could go on, but while the attention this issue is receiving is unprecedented, it is also unsurprising.

The global popularity around a “right to disconnect” has been driven in the past two years by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. As remote work became the norm, the invisible barrier between “home” and “work” began to disappear for most employees. Headlines about burn-out, Zoom exhaustion, and pandemic fatigue are commonplace; fears of the ‘great resignation’ generate employer anxiety around retention; and employees struggle more than ever to find the mythical work-life balance.

In the author’s view, employers can expect similar legislation to become commonplace over the next few years.  Further, regardless of whether “right to disconnect” policies become a legal requirement or not, the ability to disconnect from work is becoming a priority for employees.

As a result, we have seen employers proactively introducing their own right to disconnect policies, a trend we expect to continue.

Contact us to discuss!