At their June 1 meeting, the Municipality of Hastings Highlands council heard from Tanya Dickinson, the deputy treasurer, who submitted a report on adopting bylaw 2022-045, Right to Disconnect from work policy. She asked that council review it for a second reading and pass the bylaw. After discussing the policy, council ultimately voted unanimously to pass the bylaw bringing this policy into effect.
Ontario passed the Working for Workers Act in Dec. 2021 which amended the employment Standards Act, 2000. While Quebec attempted and failed to introduce similar legislation through a private member’s bill last year, Ontario is the first province in Canada to successfully do so.
According to Canadian Lawyer magazine (canadianlawyermag.com), France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Germany have already enacted right to disconnect from work laws over the past five years, and other countries like Ireland, Portugal, Slovakia, Chile and Argentina are on the cusp on bringing forth legislation for this purpose.
Ontario’s amendment to the ESA requires that all employers that have 25 employees or more to have a written “Right to Disconnect” policy in place within six months of the Working for Workers Act, 2021 getting Royal Assent, which occurred June 2. Within 30 days of approving this policy, the municipality needs to give out copies of this policy to its employees, which was developed with the aid of Hastings Highlands legal team and human resources consultants.
In her report, Dickinson emphasized that with this policy, the municipality supports the wellbeing of its employees and recognizes that disconnecting from work spurs benefits, and thus encourages them to disconnect from work to enjoy their non-work lives. She said that in addition, the policy works in relation to other corporate policies relating to customer service standards and staff conduct.
“For clarity, this policy does not apply to members of council. If council members, or anyone else such as members of the public were to send correspondence that needed to be addressed outside working hours, the time employees spend reviewing and actioning such items may be considered ‘work time’ and subject to ESA regulations. This policy gives employees additional direction and responsibilities to ensure they are properly disconnecting from work until regular working hours, as required,” she said in her report.
At the meeting on June 1, Mayor Tracy Hagar introduced Dickinson’s report and asked for comments from council. Deputy mayor Dorothy Gerrow related that she had said in her first review of the policy that municipal staff need their disconnection from the workplace.
“As council members, we can support and acknowledge that, by not calling and emailing staff members after hours or on weekends. When you have conscientious people on staff that care and cannot resist the urge to look at an incoming text message or email message, it does pull you back and away from that disconnection. So, I’m prepared to move forward with the second reading to get it passed,” she says.
Councillor Tony Fitzgerald commented that a healthy work life balance is critical to maintain a happy and productive workforce.
“And this well-written policy is practical and proactive, demonstrating common sense, recognizing that there are times when certain employees need to be contacted due to extreme circumstances but provides clear guidelines for all other times. So, my thanks to deputy treasurer Dickinson for this report. I’m pleased to help it pass today,” he says.
With no further discussion or questions on Dickinson’s report, Hagar called the vote, and council voted unanimously to pass the Right to Disconnect from work policy.
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times