Commentary,  Future of Work,  Technology,  Time & Working Hours,  Uncategorized

Ontario’s ‘Right-to-Disconnect’ is no Such Thing

The Ford government in Ontario, portraying itself as being on “the side of workers,” recently passed legislation setting out certain requirements for some businesses in the province regarding expectations of workers’ availability outside of normal working hours.

This legislation has been widely, but very inaccurately, reported as a “right to disconnect.” Some coverage has even fawned that Ontario is now the first jurisdiction in North America to protect this right. This claim is transparently false – and individuals who (wrongly) believe that such a right exists might take actions (such as refusing instructions from their employer) that could jeopardize their employment.

The Ontario law simply requires that firms with over 25 employees operating in the province must post and communicate their policy regarding “disconnection” outside of normal working hours. There are no requirements in the legislation whatsoever regarding what that policy should contain, and whether or not workers do indeed have any right to reject work (including instructions sent via email, text, or other remote devices) outside of normal hours. The reality is that workers do not generally have that right – unless they are protected by a union contract.

Centre for Future Work Director Jim Stanford discussed with journalist Holly McKenzie-Sutter the superficial nature of the new Ontario policy, and why unionizing actually offers much better protection for workers concerned with the technology-facilitated creep of work into their unpaid time. See the full story here:

Ontario's right to disconnect law too vague to help work-life balance, experts say

There is an enormous dichotomy in Canadian employment law between non-union workplaces (where people can be fired for any reason, with minimum notice or pay in lieu) and union workplaces (where just cause rules are enforced). It’s the clearest benefit of unionizing.

The Ford government’s symbolic and manipulative “right to disconnect” policy (which offers no such right at all) has inadvertently highlighted this dichotomy: if you want protection for ANY of your rights at work (including a right to disconnect), having a union is essential.

In the meantime, workers should be careful about learning about their labour rights from government press releases recycled uncritically as news. Someone who heard on TV that they now have a “right to disconnect” might then tell their boss to stuff it, the next time they are asked to return emails on the weekend. But under Ontario law, they could get fired anyway – unless, of course, they have a union.

Jim Stanford is Economist and Director of the Centre for Future Work. He divides his time between Sydney, Australia and Vancouver, Canada. Jim is one of Canada’s best-known economic commentators. He served for over 20 years as Economist and Director of Policy with Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector trade union.