Ontario workplaces with 25 or more employees on January 1, 2022 will have until June 2 to put in place a written policy with respect to disconnecting from work. The Workers for Workers Act, 2021, which added this requirement to the Employment Standards Act (ESA), received Royal Assent on December 2, 2021.
The ESA defines disconnecting from work "as not engaging in work-related communications, including emails, telephone calls, video calls or sending or reviewing other messages, to be free from the performance of work."
Monte McNaughton, Ontario's Minister of Labour, Training, and Skills Development, spoke with eNews earlier this month about the benefits of the disconnect from work policy to workers and employers, tools available to help employers, and how the ministry will encourage compliance.
Why is being able to disconnect from work an important issue for you?
I believe we should be able to separate work time and personal time. I want people to be able to spend quality time with their kids and their spouses, and to do this we need to prioritize family time and workers’ mental health. Nobody should be on call 24 hours a day.
Why is this policy needed?
At the beginning of the pandemic, the way in which people work changed very quickly, helped in part by many technological advancements. Back in 2016, something like 5% of employees were working from home. During the height of the pandemic, 32% were working from home. So, the pandemic accelerated the speed of this change in a dramatic fashion. As a result, there's been a blurring of lines between work and home, which is why we had to take action.
Was there a consultation process in developing the policy?
Yes, absolutely. The policy is just one outcome of a "future of work" panel we struck to go out and talk to workers, businesses and labour leaders, and determine what changes needed to be brought forward. We consulted hundreds of people in the process.*
How does this new requirement empower workers?
I envision workers going for a job interview and asking their prospective employer about its right to disconnect policy. This re-balances the scales by empowering workers to choose an employer whose workplace best suits their needs and their family's needs.
How will employers benefit from implementing a disconnect policy?
I think across Ontario the best employers are already doing this. There's so much competition for talent in the face of huge labour shortages. Ensuring that workers can be truly off the clock when their workday is over can only help employers attract and retain talent.
It will also ensure that businesses are more productive and competitive. Prioritizing workers' mental health and family time will mean that workers are fully engaged during the hours they are working. The best employers are going to get ahead of the curve on this.
How are you helping employers develop right to disconnect policies?
Our ministry had lots of engagement with employers in the development process. I had conversations with Chambers of Commerce, their networks and other associations as well to ensure we are engaging employers of every size. It's been really well received. We have since put out guidelines and worked with businesses to help them draft right to disconnect policies.
What do you say to workers and employers who may be resistant to this change?
We can't be a province where people burn out from endless work and where family time comes last. My message to workers is you deserve a break. Everyone deserves to unplug at the end of their workday because people are more than their jobs.
My message to business is, if you want to keep your workers healthy, if you want to ensure that their mental health is protected, and you want to make sure you are retaining that talent, you need to have a disconnect policy in place. The workplace is changing. We all have to adapt.
I appreciate that this will be new for thousands of employers across the province. We've really been working with the business community to help them draft a disconnect policy and give them guidelines and advice.
How will this requirement be enforced?
I think the law is clear. Any employer with 25 or more employees must have a disconnecting from work policy. This is now part of the ESA, and will be included in health and safety inspections conducted by Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development staff.
We recognize that the overwhelming majority of employers do a good job, they follow the rules, and want to do what's in the best interests of employees. So, I am confident they're going to adjust to this, post their policy, and really bring transparency to the need for disconnecting.
How WSPS can help
Sign up for WSPS Safety Connection Webinar - Working for Workers Ontario - MLTSD Perspective - a free, 1.5 hour virtual session taking place April 28 and May 16.
- WSPS Right to Disconnect Infographic Poster
- 6 tips to launch a "disconnect" policy now
- Mental Harm Prevention: 13+ Workplace Factors Toolkits
- Psychological Safety Resources for Leaders During COVID-19 (info sheet)
- 5 ways to create a safe and inclusive workplace during the pandemic (article)
- Welcoming employees back to work? Don't forget mental health in your plans (article)
- COVID-19 and Mental Health (poster)
- Mental Health in the Workplace (poster)
Take your commitment to building a healthy workplace to the next level with WSPS' healthy workplaces and workplace mental health consulting.
- Workplace Mental Health: How Managers Should Respond (3.5 hour virtual or public classroom training)
- Breaking Down Mental Health Barriers – Stress (1.5-hour eCourse)
- Mental Health: eCourse Package, a series of five eCourses available as a package or individually:
The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.
* The consultation process was led by the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee, which was announced by Minister McNaughton in June 2021. The committee received oral and written input from 700 individuals and organizations. Read the committee's report, The Future of Work in Ontario.