Talent Canada
Talent Canada

Features Legal Workplace Legislation
The right to disconnect: Potential amendments to the Canada Labour Code

May 17, 2024
By John Hyde

Getty Images/Weerayut Chaiwanna

In the 2024 federal budget, the Canadian government proposed the Canada Labour Code eventually be amended to include a “right to disconnect” for employees.

The federal budget proposal

The Canadian government has proposed that the Labour Program (a federal institution that is part of Employment and Social Development Canada) work towards implementing legislative changes to the Canada Labour Code for the purpose of requiring federally regulated employers to develop and establish right to disconnect policies that would limit work-related communications outside of scheduled working hours.

The government has proposed a budget of $3.6 million, spread out over five years, to facilitate this proposal.

While the exact details of the potential right to disconnect are currently unknown, proposing such change is intended to create a healthier work-life balance for Canadians by promoting separation between work and personal time.


Ontario and the ESA’s “disconnecting from work” policy

Under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act (“ESA”), there is already a requirement for employers with 25 or more employees to have a written policy addressing “disconnecting from work.” However, there are no requirements as to the contents of the policy. As such, there can be great variances between employers. Further, without content guidelines for the policy, the obligation to have a disconnecting from work policy doesn’t necessarily create a right to disconnect as such a right may commonly be understood.

Beyond Ontario’s disconnecting from work policy requirement, the federal government is breaking relatively new ground in Canada with its proposed right to disconnect. However, there are a number of international examples of how a right to disconnect has been implemented, which may provide further guidance on how such a right may be established in the Canada Labour Code.

International examples

In France, the right to disconnect was added to the French Labor Code and came into force in 2017. The law doesn’t strictly prescribe days or times during which an employee can or cannot be contacted, but instead requires employers to develop procedures by which employees can exercise their right to disconnect and that ensure respect for an employee’s rest and personal time.

Belgium strengthened its right to disconnect laws in 2022 (effective 2023). Under the strengthened laws, Belgian employers must establish rules that address the practical application of the employee’s right not to be contacted after working hours, rules for the use of digital tools, and training and awareness-raising measures.

In Spain, there is a regulation that provides employees and workers a right to digitally disconnect outside of their legally or conventionally established working times for the purpose of guaranteeing respect for their rest and personal time. Employers are also required to create policies with respect to digital disconnection.

Ireland has a right to disconnect that includes three main elements: the right of an employee to not routinely perform work outside of their normal working hours; the right not to be penalized for refusing to attend to work matters outside of normal working hours; and the duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect. Ireland also has a “Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Right to Disconnect” that provides further guidance on things such as employer and employee obligations, best practices for the employer’s policy, and more.

Other countries with laws around an employee’s entitlement to disconnect from work outside of working hours include, but are not necessarily limited to, Slovakia, the Philippines, and recently, Australia.

Right to disconnect laws may not create exact rules or protocols for employers and employees to follow, but instead establish a general right to disconnect and then lay out guidelines for, and establish factors that must be addressed within, the right to disconnect policies or rules to be implemented by individual employers. How detailed, extensive, or strict those guidelines and factors are seem to differ from country to country.

Lessons for employers

In Canada, Ontario is the only province with a requirement for a disconnecting from work policy. However, federally regulated employers will want to keep an eye on the proposed future changes to the Canada Labour Code with respect to the right to disconnect as they will likely result in the eventual need to develop a new workplace policy and may impact digital communications with employees.

While the federally proposed right to disconnect will not impact provincially regulated employers, it is possible that other provinces and territories may follow in the footsteps of the federal government and create a statutory right to disconnect.

John Hyde is the managing partner at Hyde HR Law in Toronto. He advises management on all aspects of employment and labour law, including representation before administrative tribunals, collective agreement negotiation, arbitrations, wrongful dismissal defence and human rights.

Print this page


Stories continue below