RIGHT TO DISCONNECT

About

Reference number:
TassJan2021-009
Date received:
2020-11-05
Organization:
Employment and Social Development Canada
Name of Minister:
Tassi, Filomena (Hon.)
Title of Minister:
Minister of Labour

Issue/Question:

The Government has committed to co-develop, with employers and labour organizations, a “right to disconnect” for federally regulated workers

Suggested Response:

• Smartphones and electronic communications are a reality of the twenty-first century workplace, and workers are increasingly expected to be available after working hours.
• I have a mandate to work with employers and labour organizations to “co-develop” a policy approach on the right to disconnect that will benefit federally regulated workers.
• The Right to Disconnect Advisory Committee, with representatives from federally regulated employers, unions, and others, held its first meeting on October 20, 2020. The committee is tasked with providing recommendations on how to move forward with this important initiative. The committee will hold a series of meetings over the coming months.
• I look forward to receiving the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on this important issue.
• Ensuring a positive work-life balance is a key aspect of the Government’s commitment to grow the middle class and help workers get ahead.

Background:

Effects of Constant Connectedness
• Increased availability of mobile technologies has enabled employers to demand that employees remain reachable off duty and may be contributing to an increase in work intensification. Engaging in e-communications for work purposes outside of work hours has been associated with poorer sleep quality, higher levels of burnout, and increased health-related absenteeism.

• Employers may favour employees who respond to work-related e communications outside of working hours, and incentivize such behaviour through promotions or bonuses. This unfairly disadvantages workers who are unable to remain connected after work due to family responsibilities, health reasons, or because they lack the necessary tools to work from home (e.g. a computer, high-speed internet).

• This issue may disproportionately affect women, as they spend approximately 33% more time than men on unpaid work (e.g. household chores, caregiving responsibilities), and are less likely to be available to their employer after working hours.

Current Status
• The Right to Disconnect Advisory Committee held its first meeting on October 20, 2020. This committee, made up of representatives from federally regulated employers, unions, and other organizations, is tasked with providing recommendations to the Minister of Labour on how to move forward with this commitment. It is expected that the committee will hold a series of meetings over the coming months and provide their recommendations in spring, 2021.

• Currently under the Canada Labour Code, if an employee elects to respond to work-related communications after work, the time they spend doing so is not generally considered working hours.

• In 2015, about 20 percent of workplaces in the federally regulated private sector had implemented a policy limiting the use of smartphones for work purposes outside of regular business hours. About 27 percent of federally regulated employees have been issued a work cell or smartphone as of 2015. Research indicates that the negative effects of using communications technologies for work purposes can be mitigated if employers set clear boundaries around off-duty communications.

• Part III of the Canada Labour Code, which establishes federal labour standards, applies to approximately 910,000 employees working in the private sector in economically important national industries such as banking and interprovincial transportation, among others. Part III also applies to federal Crown Corporations.

• The main beneficiaries of a “right to disconnect” are likely to be workers with nine-to-five jobs who do not expect to be working off-hours, for example workers in the banking and telecommunications sectors where 96% and 72% of employees, respectively, work a standard daytime schedule. Over two-thirds of federal sector employees work a regular, daytime schedule.

Additional Information:

• The commitment to introduce a “right to disconnect” was proposed in the Government’s election platform and is found in the Minister of Labour’s mandate letter, which commits the Minister to “co-develop new provisions [in the Canada Labour Code] with employers and labour groups that give federally regulated workers the “right to disconnect.”

• France’s Code du travail was amended in 2016 to introduce a right to disconnect for French workers. Coming into force in 2017, the law requires employers to compensate employees who are required to be reachable outside of working hours. The law also requires companies with more than 50 employees to negotiate a disconnect policy with their employees. If an agreement cannot be reached, the employer must, in consultation with employee representatives, publish a “charter” that defines the scope of their right to disconnect in that workplace.

• “Right to disconnect” was considered by the independent Expert Panel on Modern Federal Labour Standards. While the panel did not recommend a statutory “right to disconnect”, the panel did recommend that Part III of the Canada Labour Code should be amended to clarify what it means to be “at work” and provide for compensation when employees are required to remain available. The panel also noted the value of workplace policies on “right to disconnect” and urged further study on the issue.

• No Canadian jurisdiction currently provides for a “right to disconnect”. A private member’s Bill (Bill No 1097), was introduced in the Quebec legislature by MNA Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois (Gouin) in March 2018 and died on the order paper prior to the 2018 provincial election. Bill No 1097 would have established a “right to disconnect” in that province. Under the Bill, employers would have been required to establish after-hours disconnect polices and employers would have to revisit these policies annually.

• The COVID-19 pandemic has added new dimensions to this issue. According to Statistics Canada, at the height of pandemic (the last week of March, 2020), about 40% of Canadians were working from home, this is in contrast to only about 8% of workers working any of their scheduled hours from home in 2018. A poll by the Strategic Counsel of Canadians in April 2020 found that, while most workers were pleased with their new teleworking arrangements, 27% of workers have noted that problems “switching off” constitute their most significant concern with the experience.

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