A common complaint from employees (and their family and friends) is that they cannot seem to get away from work, even after they’ve left the office to go home at night. Technology has allowed many individuals to take their work home with them, which was only been exacerbated by the pandemic because so many people were, and continue to work from home. The office boundary lines have now become significantly blurred regardless of the employment contract signed.
Employees who work from home may see emails come in after their work day is complete, yet feel like it would be irresponsible for them not to reply. They may feel their employer expects them to complete tasks such as replying to emails because it’s easily accessible from their fingertips. So what rights do employees have when it comes to disconnecting after working hours? It’s an important and highly relevant employment question in today’s society. As of June 2nd, 2022, the Working for Workers Act came into effect, which provided some guidance on the issue.
What Does the Statute Say?
So what exactly does the Working for Workers Act say? Firstly, it defines “disconnecting from work” as ‘not engaging in work-related communications, including emails, telephone calls, video calls or the sending or reviewing of other messages, so as to be free from the performance of work.’ For example, if a superior or a co-worker sends an email at night regarding a work task of some sort, this is specifically covered under this piece of legislation.
The statute also states that any employer with 25 or more employees must ensure it has a written policy in place for all company employees with respect to disconnecting from work. A copy of this written policy must also be provided to all current and future employees. Any change made to the policy must also then be communicated to the employees. This means companies with 10 employees, for instance, are not covered by this particular law.
What Does this Mean for Employees?
Interestingly enough, the most significant aspect of this legislation is actually nothing that is included in it. Yes, the Working for Workers Act defines work-related activities broadly, which is helpful for employees. Yes, the Act also states that companies with more than 25 employees must have a written policy in place. However, it does not mandate what hours are to be considered non-working. Therefore, the policy can simply state between only 11:00 pm and 11:59 pm, employees are free to disconnect from work. As such, it would be permissible for the employer to expect answers on emails and other communications outside of that 59-minute range, even though it may be after 5 pm. Moreover, it does not help employees who work at smaller companies (less than 25 employees) as they do not even get the benefit of a written policy on disconnecting from work.
Essentially, the Act merely requires a written policy to be created only by employers of a certain size but does not explicitly outline what the required policy should state.
The Main Takeaway
This Working for Workers Act is lacking the teeth that many people think it might have when they hear about the new law on the news. For all intents and purposes, it does not actually provide employees with much more protection than they had before June 2nd, 2022.