Ontario’s right to disconnect act has kicked in. Experts say it’s good ‘in theory’ 

Click to play video: 'How Ontario’s ‘right to disconnect’ law works and what’s still missing'
How Ontario’s ‘right to disconnect’ law works and what’s still missing
WATCH: How Ontario's 'right to disconnect' law works and what's still missing – Jun 6, 2022

While Ontario’s right to disconnect law sounds like a good idea, experts say it’s important to observe the impact of the practice on the well-being of employees and its practical application in the workplace before considering a pan-Canada approach.

According to the Employment Standards Act, 2000, section 21.1.1, the right to disconnect refers to “not engaging in work-related communications, including emails, telephone calls, video calls or sending or reviewing other messages, to be free from the performance of work.”

The law went into effect in Ontario on June 3.

According to Basem Gohar, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at the department of population medicine at the University of Guelph, “at face value, it sounds like a really good idea.”

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“There’s a huge amount of burnout in various sectors…and the outcome of burnout is actually sickness and absenteeism,” said Gohar.

“I think in theory it’s a good idea. But how it will be applied, I guess only time will tell,” he added.

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Employers look to maintain productivity as remote work continues

Ontario enacted Bill 27: Working for Workers Act late last year and it requires employers with 25 or more people on staff as of Jan. 1, 2022 to establish a policy that outlines how they will ensure workers are able to disconnect from the workplace after hours.

Gohar said it’s great that Ontario is leading this, but believes it’s better to see what works and what doesn’t before other provinces and territories across Canada follow suit.

“I feel in North America, we live to work…because career is the number one thing…we define ourselves by our profession and what we do. And we take a lot of pride in that…so I honestly don’t know how this is going to work,” said Gohar.

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Dr. Lisa Belanger, CEO and founder of ConsciousWorks, a consulting firm that supports leaders and teams in maximizing their mental capacity and performance, says she’s a huge fan of the concept but believes it’s better to start working on improving company cultures rather than waiting for Canada to implement a policy.

She said policies are meant to be mandated and followed, and company leaders are not necessarily equipped to do that.

“Unfortunately we’ve not really upskilled our leaders to understand how to lead asynchronously and to be adaptive,” Belanger said.

“We’ve seen some success in France…but it needs to be investigated more. It’s not always followed…if nobody’s auditing this, and if nobody’s complaining or willing to go to the court system, then (we’re not going to know),” she added.

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Belanger said now is the time to get leaders to think through what flexible work is and what the future of work looks like.

According to Achkar Law, a Toronto-based law firm, “although working from home resonates as a flexible arrangement to some, for others, it is muddling the line between work and personal time, bringing on an issue of an employee’s right to disconnect.”

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The law firm also states that “some employees are experiencing ‘burnout’ as a negative effect of being constantly accessible and “plugged” into work.”

Ontario’s legislation aims to change that and Gohar thinks “it’s good that there’s at least an acknowledgment that employees have the right to disconnect and not think of work all the time because that’s just not healthy.”

Gohar says his main concern in regards to the law is that not all professions can afford to disconnect after hours, like health-care providers.

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“Some professions, or some personalities even I would argue might have a sense of guilt for disconnecting, so if you’re super attached to your work and if it’s a certain profession that might have a staff shortage, you might feel guilty disconnecting even though you rightfully deserve it and you should recharge,” Gohar said.

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The Act itself doesn’t provide many details about how this new law will work.

The Canadian Press reported on Thursday that this new policy was inspired by a 2016 law giving workers in France the right to turn off electronic work devices outside of business hours. Then in 2018, Canada’s federal government started reviewing labour standards and mulling whether to give workers the right to ignore work-related messages when at home.

A committee convened last October was expected to analyze the issue and provide then-labour minister Filomena Tassi with recommendations by spring. But the province of Ontario opted not to wait for federal regulations.

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Global News reached out to provinces across the country on whether they’ll be following suit, but only British Columbia provided a response. A spokesperson for B.C.’s Ministry of Labour aid in an e-mail that the ministry is aware of Ontario’s new right to disconnect law.

“The ministry is watching with interest but there are no plans at this time to establish a similar law in B.C,” the spokesperson told Global News.

“Our ministry has been focused on supporting workers and employers with priorities such as paid sick leave, the increase to the minimum wage and improvements to the workers’ compensation system.”

— With files from The Canadian Press

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