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Right to disconnect: Ontario mandates workplace policies


In a win for work-life balance, a new law is now in effect in Ontario that forces many companies to craft policies on employees disconnecting from work after hours.


As of June 2, employers in Ontario with 25 or more employees must have a written policy with respect to disconnecting outside business hours. The new law was part of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives’ Working for Workers Act, which was passed in late 2021. It’s the first law of its kind in Canada.


“‘Disconnecting from work’ means 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 2021 legislation explained.


Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton previously told CTV News the law “was created in response to the increasingly blurred lines between work and home” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.


The new rules in Ontario must apply to all employees, including managers and executives. Company policies must clearly outline expectations, if any, about communicating outside of working hours. All Ontario employers with 25 or more employees on Jan. 1, 2022 must have a written policy as of June 2.


Beginning in 2023, all employers with 25 or more employees must have a policy in effect by March of that year.


Ontario is the only province with such a law. Quebec and the federal government have explored the idea too, but have yet to table legislation. Such laws were first introduced in France, and have since been adopted by only small handful of countries, including Italy and Slovakia.


Critics, however, say the Ontario legislation falls short, and that it doesn’t address what many workers actually want.


“What they really should be looking at is flexibility in the workplace,” Bryan Smale, a professor at the University of Waterloo’s Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, told CTV News. “As long as they’re accomplishing their tasks, that gives them more flexibility; it gives them more work-life balance and improves their wellbeing.”


The law has also been criticized for being impractical and short on key details like enforcement and penalties. Still, mental health advocates say rules like these are a step in the right direction for maintaining a work-life balance and disconnecting from the digital world.


“This allows those who may have a hard time, or have a toxic workplace, or a difficult workplace, to have something in their toolbox to initiate and support them,” Vancouver-based psychiatrist Dr. Shimi Kang told CTV News.


After five years in the insurance industry, Stacy Tang quit to start her own graphic design business for better hours and the ability to disconnect from work.


“Sometimes I get that [notification] after work and I just get anxiety just hearing it,” Tang told CTV News from Toronto. “It’s so hard to unplug nowadays, especially with technology being so accessible, and then with your boss knowing that you have access to the system after work.”


Under the Ontario law, failure to comply with the new rules could be enforceable under the province’s Employment Standards Act.

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