COVID-19 and the Right to Disconnect

With the re-introduction of COVID-19 safety plans at the workplace, many organizations are continuing to implement work-from-home arrangements. While employees may celebrate not having to commute, employers should be aware that working from home presents its own unique challenges.

For example, with the “office” now always within reach, some employers’ expectations about when employees are available to work may have changed. As a result, employees may find it more difficult than ever to regulate their working hours and find time to recharge away from work.

In an effort to combat this reality of working from home, the Ontario government recently passed “right to disconnect” legislation that requires employers to have a written policy to ensure employees can disconnect from their jobs at the end of the workday. While the specific requirements of these policies have yet to be determined, it is expected that limits may be set on answering calls and responding to emails after hours or while on vacation, and employees may be required to use out-of-office notifications during those times.

The hope is that the new legislation will also benefit employers in the long term by reducing stress-related absenteeism. Employers in Ontario will be required to implement their policies effective June 2, 2022.

Ontario’s right to disconnect represents the kind of adaptations that are required to address stress and related concerns in the new COVID-19 world. While it is not clear whether British Columbia or other western Canadian provinces will adopt similar right to disconnect laws, employers may want to take a proactive approach in considering and developing their own policies and practices to ensure employees are able to separate their work lives from their home lives. In the end, this may produce a more productive and energized workforce.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.