Right to Disconnect

Published on May 25, 2022

The Rolodex. Fax machines. The watercooler.

Icons and increasingly relics of ‘the office’ that are no longer relevant in the modern workplace. Mobile technologies, such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops have dissolved the physical and metaphoric walls of the office, allowing us to connect and communicate from anywhere at any time.

However, these technologies that allow us to be connected around the clock every day of the week have blurred the boundary between personal and work time. More than that, it has seen employees more frequently responding to emails or answering calls on weekends, evenings, and even while on vacation. In 2021, a Canadian study found that the average worker processed a quarter of their emails from home outside of business hours. Ease of access to work emails and a culture of ‘hyperconnectedness,’ with an expectation of immediate responses to all inquiries, is at least partially responsible for these habits.

The COVID 19 pandemic only accelerated this shift, as employees converted bedrooms into makeshift offices and turned kitchen tables into boardrooms to continue working, all without the defined structure and schedule of travelling to the office for business hours.  

At Sport Law we have seen first-hand the consequences of sport leaders and staff feeling the pressure to be constantly available without being able to disconnect fully from work. The inability to disconnect and recharge can very quickly lead to additional stress, reduction in productivity, burnout, and turnover.

Right to Disconnect Legislation

To help foster a better work-life balance for employees, the Ontario government recently passed Bill 27: Working for Workers Act, 2021 (the “Act”) which came into force on December 2, 2021.

A central element of this legislation gives employees in Ontario the right to disconnect from work. The Act requires that eligible employers create policies around employees’ rights, specifically protecting the rights of employees to not engage in work-related communications, including emails, telephone calls, video calls or the sending or reviewing of other messages, so as to be free from the performance of work” outside of working hours.

The Act does not provide many specifics about the content of this policy, other than requiring that the employer provide a copy of this policy to every employee within thirty (30) days of creating the policy, as well as to any new hires.

Failing to create a policy is a violation of the Employment Standards Act and could result in a hefty fine.

Do I need a Right to Disconnect Policy?      

Before rushing to write and implement a Right to Disconnect policy, the mandatory elements of the Act only apply to organizations that meet the established minimum requirements.   

Only organizations with twenty-five or more employees residing in Ontario on January 1, 2022, need to have a Right to Disconnect policy. In determining your employee count, employers must include every individual employee, whether they work forty or four hours a week, located in Ontario who are on payroll at the beginning of the calendar year.

By way of example, if your organization is a summer sport and had ten employees on January 1st but hires twenty additional workers during the summer months to meet an increase in demand, there is no obligation to have a Right to Disconnect policy in place by June 2nd, 2022. Alternatively, if you did have twenty-five employees at the beginning of the calendar year with layoffs during the warmer months, your organization may be required to create a policy.

For national sport organizations with staff and operations across the country, it is important to note that only employees residing in Ontario must be counted under the Act. All organizations should verify their employment records to determine how many employees they had working in Ontario on January 1st, 2022.  

Should I have a Right to Disconnect Policy?

Whether you have two employees or a hundred, we strongly recommend having a Right to Disconnect policy in place as a reflection of your values and commitment to supporting your employees’ health and wellness.

These policies should include items such as:

  • Who the policy applies to;
  • The organization’s standard business or operating hours;
  • Any exceptions to these standard hours, such as during competitions or events;
  • Standard response times for different types of communications (e.g. emails, phone calls, instant messages, etc.); and,
  • Expectations around answering communication outside of those hours.

Beyond the specifics of any policy, leaders within an organization must reflect a commitment to encouraging a culture where employees feel as though they can disconnect without penalty. This includes respecting vacation time, both for their employees as well as for themselves.

Out of the office should mean that you are out of the office!

Areas of Consideration

When drafting and implementing a Right to Disconnect policy, we suggest that organizations consider different issues, including:

  • Avoid mass emails – while sending emails by groups can be an effective time-saver for the sender, caution should be used when doing so. It may be that you have employees on vacation or at a competition who may be distracted by these messages.
  • Time zones – If your employees work across multiple time zones, it is important to be mindful when mandating when employees will be expected to respond to communications or when meetings can be scheduled. If needed, provide flexible options for when an employee can disconnect if they must attend a meeting outside of their regular working hours. Also, most email services allow for timed message delivery which can help limit the number of emails employees receive on their personal time.
  • Reporting – Consider who an employee should contact if they feel that their right to disconnect is not being respected or that their workload is such that they are not able to disconnect at the end of their working hours. A mechanism for reporting should be included in the policy. We recommend providing a contact for employees who is not their direct supervisor or manager. In smaller organizations, this could be a member of the Board of Directors if needed.
  • Disabling email service after hours – Some companies have taken measures to ensure that employees are taking time to recharge by disabling their emails after working hours or putting parameters on when emails are received. While this is a great step toward reestablishing boundaries, we recognize that this is not always possible or practical when working in sport. Competitions, training, and other important events often take place outside of standard working hours.
  • Create a trusted culture – An organization’s culture guides and informs the actions of all employees. Policies should reflect your organizational culture. Some organizations have, either intentionally or unintentionally, created a culture which make employees feel they should be available around the clock for work-related communication. Before writing a policy, consider your organization’s culture and what might need to change to ensure employees are getting the breaks they need to maintain their current productivity and prevent burnout. Workplace expectations often come from the top-down, so make sure everyone, including upper management, also take personal time and not working excessively outside of standard work hours. If you are curious about ways to measure your culture’s health, connect with Sport Law’s partner Dina Bell-Laroche to find out more at dblaroche@sportlaw.ca.

Conclusion

While remote work gives employees the flexibility to work anywhere and anytime, disconnecting from work is crucial for individuals to achieve a healthy and sustainable work-life balance. More than just simply complying with legislation, sports organizations must be willing to prioritize their employees by creating a culture that recognizes and values the division between work and personal time.

We urge organizations to prioritize your employees’ mental and physical health and create a culture where employees feel comfortable disconnecting from work upon completion of the workday.  Work-life balance is more relevant and important than ever, and sport organizations need to be at the forefront of this movement.

If you have any questions about a Right to Disconnect policy, please contact Will Russell at wrussell@sportlaw.ca. If you are looking to implement cultural change, please contact Lauren Brett at llb@sportlaw.ca.

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