People Management
5 min.

The Right to Disconnect: Don’t Miss the Boat

Andrée-Anne Blais-Auclair
Last updated on 22 Dec. 2023
Published on 21 Jun. 2022
Femme qui éteint une lumière

When it comes to the right to disconnect, Canada is behind. However, although no laws exist to protect workers as of yet—except in Ontario, there’s nothing stopping you from getting ahead of the curve.

Table of contents

The right to disconnect concerns employees who receive text messages about work schedules, replacement requests at 10 p.m. for the next day’s shift, questions about the previous day’s closure while they’re on vacation, etc.

The premise of the right to disconnect is that it’s legitimate for employees not to have to remain available outside of their working hours.

The right to disconnect is increasingly being talked about. Because with the ubiquity of cell phones and social media, many of us feel forced to answer immediately, at any time.

This being said, being constantly available for work goes against a healthy lifestyle. In fact, it’s harmful to mental health and constitutes a risk factor for burnout.

Even so, today, no laws have been enacted to protect Canadian workers in this regard, except for Ontario’s Written policy on disconnecting from work. In this post, I lay out Canada’s position on the right to disconnect and explain why and how you can (and really should!) implement a formal “right to disconnect” policy.

What does the right to disconnect mean for employees?

In concrete terms, the right to disconnect ensures that rest periods outside working hours, as well as during leave and vacations, are respected. It preserves the mental and physical health of employees by reducing feelings of stress at work and by allowing employees to completely unplug. Moreover, the right to disconnect helps balance work and personal or family life.

The right to disconnect makes it possible for employees to:

  • Not answer emails and calls outside of work hours
  • Turn off work-related app notifications
  • Activate out-of-office and redirect messages
  • Completely unplug on their days off and vacations

Is Canada behind?

The right to disconnect is quite recent in origin.

It was France that first coined and addressed this concept, in 2017. Since then, the French labor code has included a law governing this right to be unreachable outside of work hours.

Here in Canada, the only official legislation that has been adopted is the one in Ontario. The implication is that it is up to companies to develop a right to disconnect policy, but that it can’t be imposed.

However, various levels of government are considering the matter, as shown by this (freely translated) excerpt of Bill 492 under consideration by the Quebec National Assembly.

“Employers need to ask themselves if texting at 11 p.m. or send emails on Sunday morning is really necessary. While each workplace has its own realities, one thing remains consistent across the board: the need for workers to disconnect after their day of work.”

Best practices to respect the right to disconnect

A full 52% of respondents to a Capterra survey reported that their company had no mental health resources available at work. In this context, a right to disconnect policy is a great way to go beyond what is currently required and to be proactive about your employees’ well-being.

How can you introduce the right to disconnect in your workplace?

1.     Clearly identify the business hours when your employees are on duty and must be available.

2.     Ask your immediate coworkers what their preferences are when it comes to available hours for communication.

3.     Encourage your employees to turn off their notifications when they leave work.

4.     Be resourceful if you have a question or problem, and don’t contact your colleagues when on vacation unless you really have to.

5.     When writing a message, question the relevance of including each recipient.

6.     Schedule your individual meetings or your team meetings within the available times of the employees concerned.

7.     Include the right to disconnect in your employment contracts.

8.     Use the “schedule send” features in all your work-related communication environments.

9.     Signal to those who do not respect their colleagues’ right to disconnect that they are crossing a line and establish penalties in case of repeat offences.

10.  Use only work-related communication tools to communicate with your employees and colleagues, rather than texting, Facebook Messenger, etc. For example, the Agendrix app communication tool, similar to Facebook Messenger, allows for direct professional exchanges, all in one place.

11.  Above all—and this is our most important advice—train your managers on the negative consequences of disregarding the right to disconnect. Strongly encourage them to lead by example by completely disconnecting when they are off or on vacation.

Everyone has the right to disconnect

As we have seen, the right to disconnect is not yet viewed as paramount here in Canada. However, managers who make their employees’ well-being and mental health a priority can and should take action rather than wait for legislation. Whatever your environment, consider drawing up a right to disconnect policy for your employees, and do so sooner rather than later.

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