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Do You Actually Have a Right to Disconnect From Work in Ontario?

Guest Post | Nov 20, 2022

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You might have heard the news or read the headlines in late 2021 that Ontario's provincial government was about to make it a law that workers in the province would have the right to disconnect from work after their shift was over. Considering the context, that many employees were working from home and starting to feel that they were always on duty, the announcement received a lot of attention.

But if you dug a little deeper or spoke to an employment lawyer in Toronto, you would have learned that there was no new "right to disconnect" coming, that the only new right you will have as an employee going forward is the right to have your employer write a policy regarding disconnecting from work and to have access to that policy.

Let's take a closer look at what the new law says.

What the New Law Actually Does

With the new law coming into effect at the beginning of 2022, every employer with 25 employees or more is now required to have a written policy on disconnecting from work in place by March 1, 2022, and every subsequent year. The Employment Standards Act defines "disconnecting from work" as:

"not engaging in work-related communications, including emails, telephone calls, video calls or the sending or reviewing of other messages, so as to be free from the performance of work."

To meet the 25-employee requirement, the employees include full- and part-time workers on staff as of January 1st of the calendar year, regardless of if the employer loses staff over the course of the year. Conversely, if, as of January 1st, an employer has less than 25 employees and hires more staff over the year, they would not have to draft a 'disconnecting from work policy.'

Other guidelines include the following:

  • An employer can have different policies for different departments/types of employees (i.e., managers and IT staff.)
  • Employers must provide a copy, or make it accessible online, to every employee within 30 days of its writing.
  • An employer must also provide a new employee with a copy of the policy within 30 days of their hiring.
  • If an employer makes changes to the 'disconnect from work' policy, they must provide their staff with a new copy of the policy within 30 days.
  • Employers are required to keep a copy of each policy for at least three years after its expiration.

Maintaining the Status Quo

The Government of Ontario's written policy on disconnecting from work says this regarding an employer's 'disconnecting from work policy':

"The ESA does not require an employer to create a new right for employees to disconnect from work and be free from the obligation to engage in work-related communications in its policies. Employee rights under the ESA to not perform work are established through other ESA rules."

See:  5 Useful Tips For Successfully Shifting To Remote Work

In other words, if you were hoping that the Ontario government was 'stepping in' to prevent your employer from requiring you to be available after hours to answer calls, emails, etc., that is not what the new law says. In fact, despite the way it was framed, the new law allows things to remain exactly as they were, except now your employer must put it in writing.

Speak to an employment lawyer if being on-call forces you to work more than eight hours per day or doesn't provide you with at least eight hours off between shifts.

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