Legislation is ‘nice as a public relations move,’ says employment lawyer

With many Canadians still working from home thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, proposed legislation that would offer workers a right-to-disconnect from the office is welcome — but experts warn it could be ineffective without clear rules and incentives.

Replying to work emails after hours is seen as part of the job for many Canadians, but the Ontario government has proposed legislation that would update labour laws and set boundaries around work and leisure time, among other changes.

The legislation would require companies with 25 or more employees to develop policies that require workers to stop working once their day is done.

The federal Labour Code currently does not address limiting work-related electronic communications, such as email, after quitting time.

“This is an issue that’s been really highlighted because of the pandemic,” said Monte McNaughton, Ontario’s minister of labour, while announcing the proposed legislation. “The lines between family time and work time have been blurred. I think all of us have faced challenges over the last couple of years.”

But according to employment lawyer Lior Samfiru, the proposed rules are short on details — and questions about enforcement remain unanswered.

“It’s nice as a public relations move and not beyond that,” he told Cross Country Checkup.

“Employers are going to implement these policies and they’re going to post them and then people are going to forget about them.”

Without enforcement of such legislation, Samfiru, a partner at the law firm Samfiru Tumarkin in Toronto, worries that those who opt to disconnect — while their colleagues remain available night and day — could be affected negatively when it comes to future promotions.


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