Ontario’s right to unplug law is too vague to help balance work and family life, experts say | CBC News

Lise Jasmin appreciates the flexibility of her job as a community health nurse in Ottawa, but the mix of home and office work, as well as the variety of schedules, makes it hard to completely unplug when she’s not working.

There is little clarity about what to do, for example if a colleague working a later shift has a question, or if you are expected to respond if someone emails you at 10pm

Jasmin is eager to see how her workplace’s new policy on disconnecting from work, now required by law starting this month for all Ontario employers with 25 or more employees, will address those gray areas.

“Sometimes there are a lot of muddy waters,” said Jasmin. “Hopefully having the policy in place will clear up some of that.”

Affected employers were required to have written policies by June 2. They have another 30 days after that to provide them to staff, so many workers like Jasmin are still waiting to see how they explain the expectations.

The new law has created buzz about its potential to give people the peace of mind to unplug from digital communications at the end of the workday. But experts and stakeholders say it’s too lazy to really move the needle on work-life balance, particularly in the era of hybrid work.

Toronto employment lawyer Deborah Hudson said it’s important to address work-life balance issues, as hybrid work becomes a permanent feature of many workers’ lives two years after they the pandemic will change traditional norms.

But he said the Ontario law missed a chance to have a real impact because it doesn’t stipulate what employers’ policies must contain.

“The spirit and the idea I think is fantastic,” Hudson said, “it’s just, what does this really mean?”

Companies say they were not given clear guidance on the law

Business owners had the same question before the June 2 deadline.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business conducted a survey that found that 33 percent of small businesses with 25 or more employees said they didn’t know they needed to have a disconnect policy by then. Only 16 percent of companies said they had a policy in place before the deadline.

Julie Kwiecinski, director of provincial affairs for the CFIB, said she has heard from many confused companies that want to comply with the law, but have not received clear guidance on how to do so.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword, because on the one hand, you like flexibility because you’re not paralyzed,” he said.

“But on the other hand, it puts a company in a really precarious position, because then they wonder, what do you have to put in this policy that a Labor Standards officer will approve if they walk in the door and ask to see it?”

The Labor Ministry said it did not have data on how many eligible employers had policies in place because they are not required to file them.

Employers who fail to set a policy could be fined, but the ministry is taking an “education first approach”.

The ministry said it has communicated information about the policy through emails, newsletters and on the government website, and is planning more educational webinars.

Monte McNaughton, who introduced the legislation as labor minister, said in an interview that introducing a policy is in the employer’s best interest. (Radio-Canada)

Monte McNaughton, who introduced the legislation as labor minister, said in an interview that introducing a policy is in the employer’s best interest.

“If you want to attract and retain talent, because that’s a huge challenge that we have here in Ontario, you need to step up and have these policies and recognize that when people are done at the end of the day, they need to be off the clock and spend time with their families.” , said.

The Employment Standards Act, and thus the right to opt out policy requirement, does not apply to Crown employees, the ministry said. But McNaughton said being more aware of the problem has made a difference in his own office.

“As soon as we introduced the legislation, I noticed a big difference,” he said. “People, including me, didn’t push send on that email late at night or on weekends and saved it for Monday morning.”

McNaughton said he wants to see the impacts of the law and if “further action” is needed, the government will act. It will continue to amend labor laws, particularly to keep up with technological change, he said.

John Gross, owner of a climbing gym in Toronto, said it wasn’t difficult to come up with a policy and that the process helped streamline operations by forcing a close look at areas where newer employees had been calling senior employees out. on call for help. .

“Having this policy in place is pushing a little bit more training to make them a little bit more self-sufficient, so they don’t need to call people for day-to-day things,” he said. “It helped us realize where we need to improve our process a little bit.”

The law does not create any new rights, says the professor

Other experts pointed to what they see as downsides of the law. David Doorey, an employment law professor at York University, said government descriptions of the policy as a “right to unplug” are misleading because the law doesn’t create any new rights for people.

He noted that there are no ramifications if employers ignore their own disconnection policies. He also doesn’t protect employees from being disciplined if they ignore communications outside of work hours, which he says makes the law in its current form “basically worthless.”

“The best we can say about the law is that it could cause some employers to change their thinking about after-hours communications and that could be helpful for some workers,” Doorey said.

Clear protections needed for workers, says economist

Jim Stanford, an economist and director of the Center for Future Work in Vancouver, said marketing it as a “right to unplug” could hurt workers and that joining a union would do more to protect people.

Digital technology is part of the confusion between work and life, Stanford said, along with the “hyper-competitive” and precarious nature of many jobs, where there is “implicit pressure” to work outside normal hours to retain contracts or be promoted.

“In the absence of clear guidelines and clear protections for workers, this abuse of worker availability will get worse,” Stanford said.


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