Proposed Bill 27 compels employers to enforce a 'disconnect from work' policy but needs more details

Forces employers to prevent a culture of hard work to creep into people's personal lives: lawyer

Proposed Bill 27 compels employers to enforce a 'disconnect from work' policy but needs more details
Benjamin Hahn is a lawyer at Whitten and Lublin Employment Lawyers

With many Canadians still working from home due to the pandemic, the Ontario government has proposed a Working for Workers Act (Bill 27) that gives employees a right to disconnect from the office. Employment lawyer Benjamin Hahn of Whitten and Lublin Employment Lawyers says the amendment to the Employment Standards Act creates an obligation on employers to draft a right to disconnect policy.

“Everyone who has recently implemented remote working policies in response to the pandemic may have to adjust those policies considering the new rights to disconnect that will be implemented soon.”

As technology becomes more a part of the workplace and permits work outside the office, Hahn says the lines between work and personal time have blurred, primarily with the pandemic and office workers working from home. “The government is putting this as an important step to preserve boundaries between work life and personal life and respecting those boundaries. So, it’s certainly an important thing. “

He says the right to disconnect clause forces employers to work towards striking the right work-home balance and not letting a “culture of working hard get ahead and creep into people’s personal lives.” Thus, employers must strike the right balance through a policy document they must prepare.

The proposed bill is not intrusive in “recalibrating” active workplace dynamics because current legislation addresses work hours, Hahn says. “It’s existing law that an hour of work performed outside of the workplace is just as much an hour of work performed in the workplace.”

According to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario website, “disconnecting from work” means to be free from work performance and not engaging in work-related communications, including emails, telephone calls, video calls or sending or reviewing of messages. The proposed legislation applies to workplaces with 25 employees or more.

Hahn says there is excitement regarding the bill, but the drafted legislation does not provide much detail, and the government will need to fill in many blanks. “It says there’s this obligation to create this policy; it doesn’t say what needs to be in the policy.”

Bill 27 states the policy should contain prescribed information, but it is a “buzz” word, meaning there will be more detailed regulation on the policy in the future, Hahn says.

“Who knows whether that’s going to be a very detailed policy with restrictive requirements or going to be permissive, broad and open-ended in terms of what an employer has to put in there?” he asks.

It is interesting to see how the government will regulate Bill 27, and employers should anticipate that they may be required to adjust how they work, says Hahn. “At a point, employees will have to sit down and figure out what they should be putting in their right to disconnect policy.”

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