The Right to Disconnect – What Does it Mean for You?

Mar 30, 2022Team Building

The Right to Disconnect – What Does it Mean for You?

Technology, working from home, and other advancements in the workplace have created many new opportunities and advantages for your team. For example,  the ability to work from home can save the company money on office space and provide a more flexible work schedule for employees.

However, with the good comes the hard. The constant availability of technology has resulted in many people feeling overwhelmed and overworked. As one person put it: “I don’t work from home, I just sleep at the office.” And this isn’t new. We’ve had a culture of workplace burnout being normal for decades. 

As the lines continue to blur between our professional and personal lives, there is a shift in how we view work and the ability to have a work-life balance.

In that regard, the Ontario government passed the Working for Workers Act, which included provisions (amongst other things) that included a “right to disconnect.” In this article, let’s outline what we know so far, what questions remain, and what it means for your business.

What Businesses Fall Under The Right To Disconnect Requirements

The Act provides that any employer who has 25+ employees as of January 1 must provide their employees with a written policy that outlines their right to disconnect by March 1. However, that period has been extended to June 2, 2022, to allow employers to formalize their written policies. 

The Right to Disconnect – What Does it Mean?

The Act defines the right to disconnect as “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.”

In other words, it provides for employees to not feel obligated to answer emails at all hours. Our work is just one area of our lives, and this Act recognizes that.

The Ministry of Labour released guidelines on Right to Disconnect policies, but those allow for a lot of latitude in how the policies are actually written. 

What is required is that the policy must: 

  • Be written
  • Be dated (with any updates dated)
  • Be provided to employees within 30 days of it being prepared or amended, and provided to new employees within 30 days of beginning their employment
  • Comply with the rest of the Employment Standards Act as it relates to hours of work, breaks, etc. 
  • Cover all employees (a note here: all employees do not need to fall under the same policy – you can have different policies for different positions or divisions)

The policy itself can be a standalone document or it can be part of a larger policy. 

HR legislation

Right to Disconnect Policies – Many Unknowns Remain

It’s easy to envision what a right to disconnect would look like for an employee who works a standard 9-5. However, what does that mean for an employee with a flexible work arrangement?

Additionally, how would a written policy account for businesses that have employees, clients and suppliers across different time zones?

How are these policies to be enforced? What should these policies include from an external communication standpoint? The current legislation is mostly silent on providing many of these details. There are European countries that have implemented similar laws that can be used as a guideline for businesses in Canada.

However, at the time this article is written, there are many unanswered questions as to how the law will be applied practically and will be balanced with operational needs.

Preparing Your Right to Disconnect Policy

Before you prepare your right to disconnect policy, think about your operational needs, and approach the conversation with the spirit of the legislation in mind.  The purpose is to set expectations and add clarity for your employees – so what are your expectations? When might an urgent response be needed outside of business hours and do your managers and employees know how to differentiate between urgent and non-urgent?

Does the policy set expectations for when the employee is on vacation or on leave? Does it create a conflict with other agreements or policies, such as a collective agreement or expectations set for responsiveness to external/client communication? 

These are a lot of questions and I understand the temptation to simply download a policy online and use it. However, that would be a mistake. Even if the businesses are similar, there is no one-size-fits-all, so that policy is likely not going to be an effective tool to reach the goal of the legislation.  

Addressing the Systemic Issue

Whether or not you are legally required to have a right to disconnect policy, it is important to address the underlying systemic issue behind the law.

What expectations do you have of your employees and are they reasonable? 

Has your passion for your business (which makes you an amazing entrepreneur) accidentally fostered a culture that limits a work-life balance?

If so, how do you correct your course? Are there operational changes that could support your employees working from home, instead of living at work?

How Support Panda Can Help

Support Panda supports many businesses in creating written policies so they can comply with the Employment Standards Act and other pieces of legislation. With over 15 years of experience in human resources, we can help you keep up with the changing work landscape.

As well, we look at your business holistically and ensure that your policies, procedures and practices align with the values that are important to you.

To learn more, book a call today! We are more than happy to discuss your HR needs.

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