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What is the Disconnecting from Work in Ontario Policy?

What is a Disconnecting from work in Ontario Policy?

In this modern age of work, more and more of our working lives are spent “connected” – emails, text messages and virtual conference calling machines like the infamous Zoom and Microsoft Teams are just some of the platforms that have become common place in our offices. While the convenience and efficiency of online platforms is clear, it comes at a cost of clear boundaries to our working hours, and the ability to meaningfully “disconnect” from our busy work schedules.

Changes to the Law for Ontario Employers as of December 2, 2021

Ontario’s ”Right to Disconnect” policy recognizes this change in routine and provides some guidance for both employers and employees as they navigate a new, more technologically powered workforce. In effect on December 2, 2021, Ontario employers with 25 or more staff must have developed and produced a written “Disconnecting from Work Policy” to all of their employees. Once the business crosses the 25 staff threshold, there is an expectation that the policy be provided within a reasonable timeframe.

What is the Right to Disconnect?

The ”Right to Disconnect” is broadly defined as “freedom from the performance of work”. While the language may sound straightforward, our connected workplace environment may complicate expectations and implementation of this policy. Think of workplace communication activities like checking your email, or sending a quick text message to follow up on a work task from earlier in the day – if your working environment often includes tight deadlines, or urgent client follow up requirements, requirements that may place pressure on employees to engage with communication platforms outside of their required work hours may easily violate the policy if it is not drafted with specific attention to the job duties of all employees.

Breaches to the policy, or the lack of a policy, can trigger an investigation, claims and fines under the Employment Standards Act through the Ministry of Labour in addition to claims through other legal mechanisms.

What are Elements an Employer Should Consider When Drafting the Policy?

Like most employment regulations, the “Right to Disconnect” policy has certain firm parameters, while other elements provide flexibility to accommodate the specific needs of your workplace.

Firm Elements include: the applicability of the policy to all employees, and the requirement for the policy to be provided to all employees in written form, and upon request

Flexible Elements: the policy may work as a stand-alone document, or as part of a broader network of workplace policies, procedures and guidelines.

In addition to ensuring the policy is drafted in view of the particular job duties of employees, all employers should consider supervisory and reporting duties, and mechanisms of resolving uncertainty implementation. Separate policies could be considered for employees with differing responsibilities in supervision or work duties so as to ensure all employees are appropriately considered within the policy’s development, leaving less areas of uncertainty, or gaps in employee expectations.

Benefits of a “Right to Disconnect” Policy

Incorporating the “Right to Disconnect” policy will help to ensure that employees understand their work obligations clearly, and feel supported in disconnecting from work activities when appropriate. While an increasing digitized work environment may support efficiency and convenient business dealings, it can quickly come at the cost of employee wellness, dissatisfaction with job duties, or confusion about expectations.

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