How Might the “Right to Disconnect” Impact Your Workplace?

The challenge of the “always on” workplace

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

When France passed the world’s first “right to disconnect” legislation in January 2017, the consensus in North America seemed to be that such legislation would be difficult to enact on this side of the pond.

However, recently proposed legislation in Québec may challenge this assumption as politicians consider how to tackle the negative effects of “always on” workplaces.

Québec bill treats right to disconnect as a workplace health and safety issue

On March 22, 2018, the Right-to-Disconnect Act was introduced in the Assemblée National du Québec. The proposed bill treats employees’ right to rest as an issue of workplace health and safety.

The purpose of the bill is to protect employee rest periods by mandating that all employers implement an after-hours disconnection policy, including weekly periods when employees are entitled to disconnect from all work-related communications, and protocols for communications after hours. The proposed legislation also contains provisions that address employee participation in drafting these policies, and penalties for non-compliance.

For unionized workplaces, Section 3 of the draft legislation states that an after-hours disconnection policy will not change the conditions of employment set out in the collective agreement, but it “may prescribe conditions of employment that are more advantageous than those provided for in the collective agreement.”

Employers may be exempt if their employees do not communicate after hours

This legislation is apparently intended to operate in addition to current labour standards legislation and will be administered by the Minister of Labour. Employers may apply to be exempted from adopting a disconnection policy for some or all employees if they can prove that the employees do not use communication tools after hours in the course of their duties. The Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail will have the authority to mediate disputes in drafting these workplace policies and create penal proceedings for offences under the Act.

Other jurisdictions have considered similar legislation

Similar legislation came into force in France on January 1, 2017, although critics pointed out that there are no fines or other enforcement mechanisms to address non-compliance. The correlation between stress and connectivity has been recognized by social science researchers.

Health authorities in BC and Ontario recommend unplugging from work communications in order to manage job stress. However, Québec is the first Canadian jurisdiction to propose legislation on the topic.

Does the proposed legislation signal a cultural shift?

The long-term impacts of this kind of legislation remain to be seen. Political interest in the topic may signify a cultural shift, similar to that which is already occurring in other countries, including Germany and Japan. With Québec’s proposed legislation, Canada may be next.

Do you have questions about workplace policy and how to manage an “always on” workplace?

Barteaux Durnford assists employers with day-to-day advice on managing workplace issues, drafting social media and technology policies, and representing employers before Nova Scotia courts and tribunals in all manner of disputes. To learn more, contact our firm today.

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