The ” legal right to disconnect” means that employees have a right to disengage from employment activities outside of their working hours. This can positively impact work-life balance as it creates more separation between working time and time off the clock.
Disengaging from work activities has become more of an issue since the COVID-19 pandemic has normalized working from home, which makes it easier to stay constantly connected as individuals are now living in their workspaces. This can have a negative impact on the mental health and work-life balance of employees and can lead to burnout if people do not give themselves time away from work responsibilities.
Canadians do not currently have a legal right to disconnect. The Canada Labour Code has yet to catch up to society’s heavy reliance on mobile technology and e-communication, as it does not currently deal with time spent responding to work-related communication outside of one’s work hours.
However, the Canadian government is aware of the need to evolve with the times and is considering providing its employees with a legal right to disconnect. The Canadian government established the Right to Disconnect Advisory Committee in 2020.
This Committee includes union and employer representatives and began holding meetings in October 2020. If a legal right to disconnect policy passes, employees of federally regulated employers would not have to respond to work communications after their working hours are over.
This would affect employees of the following sectors: banks, airports, airlines, railways, radio and television broadcasters, and other federal agencies. Unfortunately, private sector employees would still not have this legal right to disconnect.
This article was written by ROBINS APPLEBY law firm. You can call them at 416.360.3379.
Legal Right to Disconnect Around the World
The idea of a legal right to disconnect was created in France when the country gave its workers a legal right to disconnect in 2017. The government was concerned about the impact of mobile technologies on work-life balance. This law applies to employers with more than 50 employees. Employees in other countries including Spain and Italy have similar rights.
The legislation across these countries vary in detail, but each protects employees’ rights not to respond to work communications outside their working hours and to not be penalized for their failure to respond.
In 2016, the World Health Organization and International Labour Organization studied the health impacts of long working hours. The results estimated that 398,000 people died from a stroke in 2016, and 347,000 from heart disease, as a result of having worked at least 55 hours.
The study showed that individuals working 55 or more hours per week, compared to those working 35-40 hours per week, have a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher chance of dying from ischemic heart disease. Long working hours are known to cause about one-third of work-related diseases.
A right to not field work calls and emails is relevant to this study and these results because it can help shorten the amount of time employees spend on work activities. Therefore, a legal right to disconnect may help decrease the prevalence of heart and stroke amongst working populations.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has seemingly created more of a need for a right to disconnect, working remotely also appears to make the law more challenging to apply. These laws are based upon scheduled, in-office workdays, which are no longer the norm. Employees want more freedom in their hours, which conflicts with the idea of telling workers when they can respond to work communications.
However, there are ways to deal with this issue. For example, in response to this problem, Ireland has created a “Code of Practice” which gives workers the same legal right to disconnect without codifying normal working hours and applies both to remote and in-office workers.
This Code also specifically addresses working across global time zones. Unlike Ireland and other countries who created their right to not field work calls and emails before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Canada is fortunate to have the opportunity to draft the potential policy with knowledge of the current reality of remote work.
Key Take-Aways on The Legal Right to Disconnect
- Canadians do not currently have a right to not field work calls and emails
- Other countries have already given employees a legal right to disconnect
- Being continuously expected to respond to work communications and long work hours can have negative impacts on the health of workers
- The COVID-19 pandemic has made this legal right to disconnect more important but also more difficult to implement