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Pandemic puts ‘right to disconnect’ in the spotlight as provinces move towards policy

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Pandemic puts ‘right to disconnect’ in the spotlight as provinces move towards policy

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TORONTO – During Danish Yusuf’s morning routine, his work phone rarely rings and there is rarely an appointment with staff at his Toronto insurance company.

The absence of disturbances is no accident. Years ago, Yusuf instructed staff not to schedule meetings or send electronic communications early in the morning or after 5 p.m. in hopes of helping staff relax and enjoy their personal lives. .

“I have a three and a half year old daughter and people don’t want to meet me between 8am and 9am because that’s when I give her breakfast, change and drop her off at preschool.” said the CEO of Zensurance.

“My team knows it and people appreciate it.”

His politics took on new significance and was considered by more and more businesses and governments as the lines between work and life were blurred even further during the pandemic.

Canadians working from home during the crisis increasingly found themselves balancing the needs of their bosses with family tasks, such as looking after children at home due to epidemics at school.

Getting away from the phone or computer can be difficult, when many no longer commute and the appeal of going out has waned as cases of COVID-19 increase again.

The average time spent by Canadian workers connecting to a computer has dropped from nine to 11 hours per day during the pandemic, cybersecurity company NordLayer discovered in February.

More recently, a November report from human resources software company Ceridian found that 84 percent of the 1,304 Canadian workers surveyed by Hanover Research felt burnt out in the past two years.

Some are eager for these statistics to change.

Inspired by a 2016 law giving workers in France the right to turn off work electronic devices outside of office hours, Canada’s federal government has begun to review labor standards and consider whether to grant workers the right to ignore work-related messages while at home in 2018.

A committee convened in October was to analyze the issue and provide recommendations in the spring to the then labor minister, Filomena Tassi.

Michelle Johnston, communications director for new Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan, declined to confirm whether the recommendations had already been received, but said in an email “work on this file continues.”

However, Quebec and Ontario are not waiting for federal regulation.

Ontario received Royal Assent for a new “right to disconnect” law on December 2. It requires employers with 25 or more employees to develop policies on work disconnection over the next six months, but does not spell out the scenarios companies face.

“This will be a fairly nice bill to see on the shelves, but one that doesn’t have a lot of teeth,” predicted Sunira Chaudhri, a partner at Workly Law in Toronto.

She believes the legislation will be difficult to enforce and will trigger waves of complaints to the Labor Ministry from workers performing tasks long after their shift has ended.

Although inspired by Ontario, Quebec aims to be tougher.

The Quebec solidaire party introduced a bill in December requiring companies to share “the periods during which an employee has the right to be disconnected from all employment-related communications” on a weekly basis. Non-compliant employers will be billed $ 100,000.

Until Ontario and Quebec moved towards legislation, Chaudhri was never asked to develop disconnection policies.

She knows of companies that have previously implemented rules around after-hours email, but has been told their policies have been largely ignored by employees. She fears the same will happen when the legislation comes into effect.

“A policy is as strong as the employees who actually implement it,” Chaudhri said.

“If employers write them up and then just put them in the drawer never to be seen again, that’s really the risk here.”

Upcoming legislation will change little for Zensurance, which is already clear on its policies and has designated on-call workers for emergencies like cyber attacks or system outages.

However, the process can be more onerous for businesses starting from scratch.

They need to figure out what circumstances should be exempt from an after-hours message ban, what to do with people circumventing or breaking policies, and how expectations will vary for different departments and industries.

For example, it may be easier for someone in a factory to leave tasks at work, but more difficult for healthcare workers, lawyers, and real estate agents, who are often on call or prone to having problems. after working hours which cannot be delayed.

But Anthony Kaul hopes employers won’t let complexity prevent them from setting expectations about the right to disconnect, as workers value clarity.

The Cloud DX co-founder, based in Kitchener, Ont., Has long encouraged staff at his healthcare technology company to leave work messages unanswered after work hours, unless it is an issue. ‘an emergency that on-call staff cannot handle.

Informal politics evolved “naturally” because Kaul is a “father”, but it is also part of the roots of the company.

“We don’t really have a culture of people sitting there with their phones, connected to the cloud or email, next to their beds at 9pm,” he said.

“We are here to improve health care for everyone. It is our mission and that includes our own people. We cannot drive them into the ground.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 26, 2021.


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