Right-to-disconnect debate gains traction amid laws targeting offending employers
There’s growing chatter in North America about adopting right-to-disconnect laws to free workers from being tethered to their phones around the clock, but some labour experts say that while the digital demands of work in the 21st century need to be openly discussed, rigid regulations and fines may not be the solution.
Last week, a New York councilman proposed making it illegal to force employees to access “workrelated electronic communications” from home, with some exceptions including emergency situations. Companies would have to draft written policies spelling out the hours of work and time off, and employers would not be allowed to threaten penalties against anyone who refused to check their email or work-related social networks off-hours.
Quebec Solidaire’s Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois also tabled a private member’s bill in the Quebec national assembly last week that aims to “ensure that employee rest periods are respected by requiring employers to adopt an after-hours disconnection policy.” The proposal calls for fines between $1,000 to $30,000 for companies that refuse to draft a proper policy, or reassess it annually to ensure it remains up to date and effective.
“For my parents’ generation, when you were leaving the office, you were actually leaving the office,” Nadeau-Dubois, 27, said last week. “It’s not true for my generation anymore. When you leave work, you still have to work because you have emails from your boss or colleague.”
The federal government has also signalled its interest in exploring the right-to-disconnect trend, which made headlines last year when France enacted its own legislation to help protect the free time of its workforce.
As part of its public consultation earlier this year on how “labour standards should be updated to better reflect and respond to the new reality” of evolving workplaces, Employment and Social Development Canada released an online survey that included several questions about right-to-disconnect policies.
Labour and employment lawyer Katherine Poirier cautions that “over-regulating and imposing fines for employers is not always the right way to solve a situation.”
“The problem is there is no cookie-cutter solution in this area,” says Poirier, a partner with Borden Ladner Gervais LLP.
She expects many companies would argue that existing labour laws and court rulings already adequately protect employees from getting forced into working outside the office.