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On June 3, 2022, Ontario’s right to disconnect law went into effect. The right to disconnect gives employees the ability to disconnect from work and work-related communications when their workday is done. Similar laws are already in place in France, Italy, and Spain.

The idea behind it is simple: Digital transformation of the workplace meant that some employees were always ‘on’ and connected, never quite able to let go, making it more difficult to create a healthy balance between their work life and their private life. In France, a 2015 report that was the basis of this law noted that to prevent the overload to the senses that the effect of being always connected creates, it was important that employees should have the right to disconnect, and that employers will need to create tools to suppress digital notifications to employees while they are off duty.

Right to disconnect

The movement for the right to disconnect gained more traction outside of Europe during the pandemic with many employees working from home, further blurring the lines between work and private life.

In Canada, Ontario was first to enact legislation that provides employees with the right to disconnect. The law requires employers who employ 25 employees or more, to have a written policy on disconnecting from work for all employees. There are no explicit requirements for what this policy must contain, and the next few months will show us how well it is socialized into the Ontario workplace.

For its part, the Ontario government issued some basic guidelines about what the policy may address. Amongst the considerations are the Employer’s expectations, if any, to work outside regular shift hours, and any expectations employers may have for employees to change their out-of-office communication to colleagues and customers.

Employers are also able to craft different content for groups of employees, but all employees must be covered by the policy.

It remains to be seen which province will be next (if at all) to enact similar legislation, but employers need not wait to examine their unique circumstances and proactively decide what kind of culture they wish to create, and how can they best prevent or mitigate burnout and workplace pressures.

In Europe, Volkswagen, working together with its employees, created a policy that stops blackberry servers from sending emails outside of working hours. Daimler created a policy that gives employees the right to set their email to “Out of office” when on leave. When someone attempts to contact them, employees’ email accounts sends an out-of-office reply, redirecting the person to someone else, and deleting the incoming email.

If you are looking to create a policy that addresses your unique circumstances then be sure to take into account some of the challenges you may be concerned about. For example. what employees are to do if they are unable to manage their workload outside their regular working hours, and how are you going to help them be successful in disconnecting. Just as important is how will you communicate the policy to employees, and what accountability will your supervisors and managers have if they elect to violate that policy.

Your Engaged HR Assignment:

Are your employees unable to disconnect from work? Do they find it difficult to strike a healthy balance between work life and private life? Consider what you can do on a company-wide level to help them overcome, and you will be rewarded with a happier and more productive team. As always, we are here to help!

Looking to learn more about other HR topics? Check out our Art of HR series!

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