Right-to-dis­con­nect de­bate gains trac­tion amid laws tar­get­ing of­fend­ing em­ploy­ers

Regina Leader-Post - - YOU - MICHAEL OLIVEIRA

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.

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