The Right to Disconnect in Ontario: What you need to know

It is Monday evening – you just finished a long day at work and are getting ready to leave the office. You say goodnight to your colleagues and begin your commute back home. Five minutes into the drive, you hear several “ding” sounds coming from your cellphone, alerting the reception of new work emails in your inbox. A few hours later, you receive a call from your employer asking you to address an issue with a client before the end of the day.

As you settle into your home office, preparing for the long night of work that is ahead, you begin to recall a conversation you had with a friend a few weeks prior. Your friend, who has also been working long hours due to her office’s “work from home” policy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, had advised you of Ontario’s new Working For Workers Act, 2021. She explained that, because of this new legislation, employers in Ontario are legally required to allow their employees to “disconnect” from work after regular work hours.  Burning with curiosity, you decide to conduct your own research, but to your disappointment, the law is not exactly as your friend had described it.

What is the Right to Disconnect?

With the Ontario government’s recent passing of Bill 27, also known as the Working for Workers Act, 2021, many Ontarians appear to have developed keen interests in the “Right to Disconnect”. Bill 27, which received Royal Assent on December 2nd, 2021, is an Act that has amended various statutes with respect to employment and labour in Ontario. Several of these amendments were made specifically to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “Act”). As a result of these amendments, the Act now contains “PART VII.0.1 WRITTEN POLICY ON DISCONNECTING FROM WORK”. It is this new PART VII.0.1 of the Act that has resulted in the spread of much misinformation among Ontarians. Despite what your family members, co-workers, and friends may be telling you, the changes to the Act DO NOT automatically give you a right to disconnect from work after regular work hours.

According to subsection 21.1.2(1) of the Act, employers with 25 or more employees are simply required to have a “written policy in place for all employees with respect to disconnecting from work”. The Act also states in subsection 21.1.2 (2) that employers must provide a copy of the written policy to each of their employees within 30 days of preparing the policy.

The right to disconnect vs. a policy on disconnecting from work: What’s the difference?

Unfortunately, for employees complaining about working above and beyond their call of duty, this new legislation does not give employees the absolute right to disconnect from work. Employers with 25 or more employees are required by law to have a written policy on disconnecting from work. But, ultimately, according to subsection 21.1.2(4) of the Act, employers are free to include any “information as may be prescribed”. In other words, an employer may choose to provide their employees with little to no right to disconnect from work, as long as it is clearly written in the policy.

Does your employer have a written policy on disconnecting from work yet?

As of June 2nd, 2022, all employers with 25 employees or more are legally obligated to have a written policy on disconnecting from work. As for next year and the following, employers with 25 employees or more on January 1st of any given year, will be legally required to comply  with the new provisions of the Act by March 1st of that same year.

If you have any questions relating to employment matters and your rights and obligations, either as an employer or employee, RSRs lawyers would be pleased to assist.