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The Pros and Cons of ‘Right to Disconnect’ from Work Legislation

One of the biggest workplace trends of the past few years has been the increase in remote work. This was brought on by the necessity of keeping workers separated (and at home) due to the COVID-19 lockdowns. It has also been augmented by improvements in technology.

Increased mobile connectivity, faster internet speeds, and improved video conferencing applications all make working remotely more efficient. While working from home offers work/life balance advantages, such as allowing workers to save on commuting time, many are noticing drawbacks as well.

People often find that they can get more done while working remotely. However, these gains in productivity come from being almost constantly plugged into work. The flipside of working from home is that you simultaneously live where you work. As a result, many employees have found themselves putting in longer hours and seeing the lines between work and personal time becoming blurred.

It's not just remote workers who feel the pressure to constantly connect to work. Employees who commute into the office used to be able to unplug from work at the end of their shift, but those same technologies that make remote connectivity easier are facilitating an ever-increasing pressure or enticement to continue communicating with work after hours. Many people are never out of reach of their smartphones and feel the need to take their work laptop with them on vacation. Checking in, responding to emails, and taking calls on weekends and evenings have become the norm for an ever-increasing amount of workers.

This rising trend has led to the creation of 'Right to Disconnect' laws in many regions worldwide. European countries such as France and Ireland have had laws like these in place for several years now. Recently, Ontario became the first place in Canada to propose such legislation.

Ontario's bill requires companies with 25 or more employees to create a policy outlining the rules for disconnecting from work. While the law doesn't directly specify what must be included in each company's internal policy, it requires that employers specify the expectations for availability with staff members in writing. In so doing, the lawmakers have acknowledged that there is no one-size-fits-all set of rules for all companies, but employees and employers must have agreed upon guidelines that are relevant to their industry.

These 'right to disconnect' rules will be included in the contract or job offer that new staff review before signing an agreement with an employer. The written policy must include the details of staff participating in work communications, including emails, phone calls, video meetings, and sending or reviewing other messages outside of certain hours. They also stipulate that when staff members are away from work, they should turn on their out-of-office reply messaging indicating when they will be available again.

The Pros and Cons of Right to Disconnect Laws

There are advantages and disadvantages of such legislation. On the one hand, while it can be beneficial for employees and employers to have an agreed-upon set of guidelines regarding connectivity written into their contracts, these policies can also create ambiguity.


Naturally, activating a 'do-not-disturb' policy for their hours away from work gives employees the opportunity to truly unplug from their jobs. The absence of any possible communication coming in from the boss that may or may not require an immediate response boosts work-life balance and reduces stress.

Employers also benefit from having availability expectations outlined with staff right from signing the contract.


Despite the aims of legislation clarifying the 'right to disconnect' for workers within a region, the policy cannot be universally applied. Professionals in some sectors, such as emergency responders, media workers, and healthcare providers, just to name a few, will always involve some degree of being 'on-call.' This also applies to industries that make urgent house calls, such as plumbers and electricians.

For those employees who work in roles that are covered by right-to-disconnect laws, there is still a potential risk of experiencing some negative career impact from standing on those newly outlined rights.

Employers value staff who go above and beyond the established outlines of their specific roles within a company. Workers who clock out at 4:59 every day are less likely to be first in line for promotion than those who put in extra hours when necessary or are at least seen to be putting in those extra hours—perception matters in office politics. So, while the law might state that companies cannot directly penalize workers for legally disconnecting from work after their shift is over, managers may still prefer team members who practice more flexibility about being available for work communications.

Flexibility is King

This last point can be the key element to implementing successful workplace communications policies: flexibility. For many white-collar workers, particularly, the lines between work and personal time have been becoming increasingly blurred for years. Many people think nothing of making an online purchase, checking personal email, or using social media while at work. On the flip side, they aren't necessarily resentful of answering a work query or email on their own time. It's a give-and-take exchange. Many use their work phone and laptop as their primary devices both at work and at home. (Although this can have some serious privacy implications that employees should be aware of as their personal use of work tools can be tracked and monitored by their boss.)

So, while the rise of 'right to disconnect' legislation in more regions is an important acknowledgment of the need for work/life balance for workers and clear expectations of staff availability laid out in advance for companies, a one-size-fits-all policy would be impractical to implement.

Which is likely why the lawmakers in Ontario included customization into the regulations rather than hard and fast rules. Flexibility works for both parties. Offering workers increased autonomy concerning their availability can be a significant advantage for employers when it comes to attracting and retaining staff in a tight labour market. At the same time, it reduces stress and boosts work/life balance for their workers.

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