Photo By: Brett Jordan from Unsplash

This week, the Ontario government proposed new legislation that would require employers to grant employees the “right to disconnect” and ban non-compete clauses in employment contracts. 

This policy would apply to employers with more than 25 employees and would encourage employees to set aside out-of-office notifications outside of their work hours. Details regarding implementation have not yet been released, but it is expected that this policy will be enacted before the end of the year.

This announcement is particularly important now, as many remote workers have raised concerns about mental burnout amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While working from home has proven to be convenient, it has further blurred the lines between employees’ work and personal time. This has been dubbed “availability creep,” a term used to describe the stress that comes with pressure to be available at all times, whether at home or in the workplace.

“I like working from home because I save a lot of time not having to commute,” said Saiyam Bhatt, fifth-year mechatronics engineering co-op student at University of Ontario Institute of Technology. “But working from home has introduced a lot of new technology that allows you to stay online all the time. So, I find I work later than I would at the office, and I see my colleagues doing the same.”

This increase in work demand has driven many employees to begin searching for new employment opportunities. However, in the professional service industry, it is common for contracts to include non-compete clauses that prohibit existing employees from taking up new employment in the same field. This makes job hunting even more complicated because those who’ve spent years working in the same industry aren’t typically willing to make a drastic change.  

This proposed legislation will ban employers from including this requirement in their contracts, which will allow Ontarians to make employment decisions based on their own goals and free from external pressures.

Other aspects of the proposed legislation include simplifying the licensing process for immigrants holding professional designations and requiring businesses to allow delivery drivers access to their washroom facilities. 

Policies like these have seen great success across Europe. In Germany and France, managers cannot email employees outside of work hours. Similarly, Ireland introduced legislation that also requires mandatory training and equity checks on top of banning after hours communications. All of these countries have reported higher rates of workplace satisfaction among their staff.

One setback to this initiative is the glorification of overworking that is so deeply embedded in North American culture. Even with legislation like this in place, there still exists a sense of obligation for remote workers to “catch up” after a full day’s work. 

Management has a big role to play in addressing employee burnout, but it is equally important for employees to accept that it is okay to take a break or log off at a reasonable time, especially when it’s being prescribed by top leadership.