The right to disconnect refers to an employee’s right to disengage from work-related communications and other work outside of their normal working hours. Ontario enacted changes to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) to enforce this right in organizations with 25 or more employees. The changes received royal assent on December 2, 2021, and require compliance by June 2, 2022.
At first blush, the right to disconnect may appear to be a labour and employment issue. However, IT departments will have significant roles to play in enabling compliance with the letter and spirit of the new requirements.
Organizations will be looking to their IT departments to implement technological or automated solutions. Employers around the globe have implemented solutions including the following, to comply with legislated or voluntary right to disconnect policies:
- Taking mail servers offline after business hours. Anyone emailing the organization receives an automated message that the server is offline to preserve the right to disconnect, and the message will be delivered during normal business hours when the server is back online. Some organizations delete any emails sent outside of business hours and amend the automated reply accordingly.
- Implementing pop-up messages reminding users of their right to disconnect if they log on to email systems outside of business hours.
- Implementing automated replies to all emails received outside of business hours, advising of employees’ right to disconnect.
- Disabling users’ access when they are on vacation or other leaves to enable employees to truly disengage from electronic communication and other work when they are on leave.
While some procedures, like taking the email server offline, will help to ensure that all employees are on equal footing—no one receives any emails—this approach may have unintended adverse consequences on employees with flexible work arrangements. Many caregivers, for instance, handle family responsibilities during the day and resume work after hours. IT departments will need to navigate these issues with human resources and user departments.
IT departments will need to promote user responsibilities that empower employees to take responsibility for and preserve their right to disconnect. For instance, employees may need training, advice, and support to manage their devices and user accounts, including:
- Acquiring and setting up dual Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) devices to separate work and personal phone numbers.
- Creating separate work and personal email accounts.
- Creating sender-based rules in email software to reroute select emails or generate notifications for critical emails.
- Preparing and enabling automated replies on their individual email accounts during vacations and other leaves.
Meeting your duty of care: As organizations implement their right to disconnect from work policies they will need support from their IT departments to determine feasible IT solutions. IT departments, human resources, and department heads should begin this assessment now. Early attention will enable compliance with the June 2, 2022 deadline for qualifying employers to create a right to disconnect policy.
Upcoming releases for First Reference’s Human Resources PolicyPro Ontario Edition and Information Technology PolicyPro will include right to disconnect policies.
Policies and procedures are essential, but the work required to create and maintain them can seem daunting. Finance and Accounting PolicyPro, Not-for-Profit PolicyPro, and Information Technology PolicyPro, co-published by First Reference and Chartered Professional Accountants Canada (CPA Canada), contain sample policies, procedures, checklists and other tools, plus authoritative commentary to save you time and effort in establishing and updating your internal controls and policies. Not a subscriber? Request free 30–day trials of Finance and Accounting PolicyPro, Not-for-Profit PolicyPro, and Information Technology PolicyPro, here.