Pandemic, working from home, and hyper connectivity propelling 'right to disconnect' push in Canada

In recent years, discussions about work leaking into private life have materialized more and more as social media and smartphone technology make it possible to remain connected almost everywhere, all the time.

For workers, this often means feeling obligated to respond to work emails or messages after their shift or after hours. In 2017, the French enshrined the ‘right to disconnect’ into law – essentially the right to disengage from all work-related activities outside of office hours.

At the moment, Canada’s Federal Labour Code does not include a right to disconnect for workers in federally-regulated workplaces.

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has been pushing for that to change through a legislative effort to follow France’s example.

“The right to disconnect is basically ‘at this time I can turn off my device and I don’t have to deal with the needs of my employer,’” said CLC President Hassan Yussuff on CTV’s Your Morning Thursday. “This is my time I can spend with my family and friends and time to get some rest, rejuvenation from work.”

Yussuff reiterated that working from home during the pandemic has heightened the feeling many Canadians experience of “this constant need to keep their device on,” but added that employers are “putting pressure on them to respond to work needs outside of what we would consider work time.”

As many Canadians have been remote-working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the feeling of being unable to disconnect or log off from work – known as “hyper connectivity” – may be adding to the stress of working at home. A 2016 World Health Organization report says that employees who work longer hours increase their risk of stroke and heart disease by nearly 30 per cent.

The report, drawing on data from 194 countries, found that 745,000 people died from a stroke and heart disease associated with long working hours – and those who worked 55 hours or more a week were associated with a 35 per cent higher risk of stroke and a 17 per cent higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with a work week capped at 35 to 40 hours.

Yussuff said the phenomenon needs to be addressed, especially for women, who spend approximately 33 per cent more time than men on unpaid labour, according to the government.

“This impacts women far more so than men because they have the responsibilities of family and children, in addition to that home responsibilities and this just adds to the stress that they are dealing with,” he said. “This right to disconnect is really going to help workers know that, at some point, you can say ‘enough is enough.’”

The Canadian Labour Code currently says “an employee’s decision to respond to a work-related communication after work is not considered working hours.”

In October, the government established the “Right to Disconnect Advisory Committee,” in the hopes of pushing forward a law to address concerns raised by Yussuff and others.

“Its critical not only for workers to have the right to disconnect but also for their employer, should they decide to breach that right they have a legal avenue to ensure the employer will be penalized for doing so,” Yussuff said.