right to disconnect ontario

Ontario could soon make it illegal for your boss to bug you at home after-hours

Ontario's provincial government wants to give residents the "right to disconnect" from work when they're off the clock — which, as obvious and sensible as it sounds, is something many office employees are no longer guaranteed in today's hyper-wired world.

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton announced legislative changes Monday morning that, if passed, would not only promote a healthier work-life balance in the province, but prevent companies from implementing "unfair non-compete agreements" that restrict future work opportunities and suppress salary increases.

"COVID-19 has changed the way we work, leaving too many people behind, struggling to put food on the table and make ends meet for their families," said McNaughton of the government's newly-proposed Working for Workers Act, 2021.

"We must act swiftly and decisively to put workers in the driver's seat and begin rebalancing the scales. Today's proposed legislation shows Ontario is ready to lead the way into the workplaces of tomorrow and create the conditions that will make talented, innovative people want to work in our great province."

McNaughton says that changes proposed under this legislation would make Ontario the best province for people to work, live and raise a family. If passed, it would be the first law of its kind to exist in Canada.

The "right to disconnect" concept has been attracting more interest in North America since remote work exploded last year, and had already inspired legislation in France, Italy and Spain well before the pandemic.

Canada's federal government established its own Right to Disconnect Advisory Committee in 2020 to explore the possibilty of such a law in our country, noting in a backgrounder document that "constant connection... carries health risks for employees when it is not balanced against the need for rest." 

"By requiring employers with 25 employees or more to develop disconnecting from work policies, Ontario is prioritizing workers' mental health and family time," reads a release issued by the provincial government on Monday of its proposed legislation.

"These workplace policies could include, for example, expectations about response time for emails and encouraging employees to turn on out-of-office notifications when they aren't working."

Also included under the act are previously-announced measures such as ensuring that food delivery workers can access restaurant washrooms and helping internationally-trained professionals practise their skills in Canada (as opposed to driving cabs or other types of work they are technically overqualified for).

Per the province, here are all of the measures proposed under the new Working for Workers Act:

  • Require employers with 25 or more employees to have a written policy about employees disconnecting from their job at the end of the workday to help employees spend more time with their families.
     
  • Ban the use of non-compete agreements that prevent people from exploring other work opportunities in order to make it easier for workers to advance in their careers.
     
  • Help remove barriers, such as Canadian experience requirements, for internationally trained individuals to get licenced in a regulated profession and get access to jobs that match their qualifications and skills.
     
  • Require recruiters and temporary help agencies to have a licence to operate in the province to help protect vulnerable employees from being exploited
     
  • Require business owners to allow delivery workers to use a company’s washroom if they are delivering or picking up items. This supports the delivery drivers, couriers and truck drivers who have kept our essential supplies and economy going throughout the pandemic.
     
  • Allow surpluses in the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board's Insurance Fund to be distributed over certain levels to businesses, helping them cope with the impacts of COVID-19.
     
  • Enable the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to work with entities, like the Canada Revenue Agency, to streamline remittances for businesses, enabling a way to give them an efficient one-stop-shop for submitting premiums and payroll deductions.
     
  • Allow the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to collect information related to the agri-food workforce to ensure the government can enhance the coordination of services such as vaccination and testing, and respond to issues that may arise.

Alongside the Act, the province says it is also investing billions of dollars into programs that will futher protect, support and attract Ontario workers.

This includes some $84 billion in ongoing work to expand transportation options, $4 billion to bring high-speed internet to all Ontario communities and further supports for the widespread adoption of virtual health care.

"Ontario cannot be a province where people burnout from endless work and family time comes last. We need to give our workers a break," said McNaughton on Monday of the proposed legislation's splashiest bullet point.

"When you're off the clock. You're off the clock. Everyone should be able to unplug at the end of their work day because people are more than their jobs."

Lead photo by

May Gauthier


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