Ontario Lawyer Says New Disconnect From Work Policy Won't Really Do Much But 'Looks Great'

"It's not going to make the day to day life of a lot of Ontario workers better."

Toronto Staff Writer
Ontario Lawyer Says New Disconnect From Work Policy Won't Really Do Much But 'Looks Great'

Most people don't want to be texting their bosses while they're at a bar on a Friday night, and Ontario's new Working for Workers Act seems to offer a solution — but not everyone agrees.

Narcity spoke with Dave McKechnie, a Toronto lawyer with expertise in labour relations, and he gave us the deets on how Ontario's new right to disconnect policy can be enforced and who it will impact and (spoiler alert) he says, "It's not going to make the day to day life of a lot of Ontario workers better."

Ontario's passed the Working for Workers Act, 2021, on November 30, which includes the right to disconnect from work, among other policies such as allowing Uber drivers access to certain washrooms, banning non-compete clauses, and more.

The right to disconnect policy will come into effect on June 2, 2022, and "require employers with 25 or more employees to have a written policy about employees disconnecting from their job at the end of the workday to help employees spend more time with their families," according to the Ontario government.

The Ontario government suggests these policies contain things such as "expectations about response time for emails and encouraging employees to turn on out-of-office notifications when they aren't working."

McKechnie says this policy "looks great," but "there isn't much in the way for enforcement that employers will have to worry about."

"Governments can put in place rules as much as they want, but if there's no enforcement mechanism, then it really becomes empty rep," said McKechnie. "The enforcement at this point is to just have a policy so if employers write a policy they're in compliance with the act."

McKechnie says what's missing from the policy is context like timing, when it applies to workers, if there are exceptions for emergencies, and when a workday ends.

"You have to look back to what the actual right to disconnect says. You have to have a written policy on disconnections from work. That's it. So until we see something that says the employers will be in breach of the act if they violate their own policy, then there isn't a lot of recourse."

For employees in The Devils Wears Prada-esque working situations whose bosses won't stop contacting them outside of work hours, McKechnie says they will have to file a complaint to the Ministry of Labour as always.

Who will this actually impact?

Office workers will be impacted by the policy, but McKechnie says lawyers, managers, supervisors, and IT professionals "are excluded from the house of works provisions," so the right to disconnect won't fall to them and many others.

"The government has put this under part seven of the Employment Standards Act, and that provision, that part of the act doesn't apply to a whole host of people."

"There's so little guidance on how this is actually going to be implemented that it's very difficult for employers to understand. For employees, it creates a very awkward situation as well without any of that guidance."

If the policy stays the same come June 2, McKechnie says if an individual were to go to their boss and say "I have a right to disconnect" they could pretty much say, "it doesn't apply to you because of these reasons."

"Without further guidance, without the regulations about who it actually applies to and how it's going to apply, it's a bit of an empty right."

McKechnie expects more information on the policy will come in December or January.

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