Is the right to disconnect over before it’s even begun?

Publication August 2019

Much has been written in Quebec about the right to disconnect. Beyond the highly publicized and now defunct Bill 1097: Right-to-disconnect Act, many authors are sounding the alarm over the risks of employees’ hyperconnectivity. One thing is certain, faced with the rise in new information technologies in the workplace, it is crucial that managers show flexibility. With the technological tsunami rapidly building, let’s look at the implications of a potential right to disconnect.

Beyond our borders

Europe has already attacked this issue. France is ahead of the world in establishing a legal framework requiring employers to negotiate the conditions of the right to disconnect with their employees1 to protect their rest time and improve work-family balance. On the other hand, Germany has adopted a more liberal approach. Although no legislation has been adopted, companies remain particularly proactive. The most striking example is Volkswagen, whose non-management employees cannot access their emails on their smartphones between 6:15 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.

Quebec’s take

Although Bill 1097 has been dropped, a multitude of legal provisions could ensure the protection of the right to disconnect. Let’s take the Act respecting labour standards2 as an example. An employee’s right to refuse, say, to do overtime and his/her right to a rest period and a meal period – while not a “right to disconnect” in itself – have the same considerations in mind. Employees have the right to “unplug.” Similarly, the Act respecting occupational health and safety3 requires that employers take the necessary measures to protect the safety and well-being of employees. Even the Charter of human rights and freedoms4 leans in favour of the right to disconnect, as evidenced by its right to privacy, the peaceful enjoyment of one’s property and the inviolability of one’s home.

Is it all worth it in the end?

Faced with this legal gap, the question is: Should Bill 1097 be resuscitated? Legislating the right to disconnect would certainly help employees “strike a better balance.” However, every business is a microcosm in itself and naturally requires its own specific working conditions. It would be difficult to set out a general rule that applies to every employer, regardless of its economic reality. For example, the globalized nature of many jobs requires interaction with providers and/or clients across many time zones. Blocking access to emails for a period of time may actually add to employees’ stress level since emails then accumulate and cause more stress, which is contrary to the desired effect.

We are not trying to settle the debate “for or against” the right to disconnect, but one thing is for sure: we haven’t heard the end of it!


Footnotes

1   Section 2242-17 of the French Labour Code.

2   CQLR c N-1.1.

3   CQLR c S-2.1.

4   CQLR c C-12.


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