While working remotely has blended the lines between work and personal time, some fields went relatively unscathed.
For academics and instructors, receiving emails around the clock is part of the job.
However, a new law may empower them to ignore these emails until the workday begins.
Under the proposed Working for Workers Act, companies with over 25 employees must create policies allowing workers to disconnect after work.
According to the Ontario Newsroom, the goal is to give workers time to rest.
While the proposed act requires companies to write disconnecting policies, it does not provide guidelines for how, when or how long employees can disconnect.
Ontario’s right-to-disconnect proposal comes from greater awareness of mental health and research on work communications outside the workplace.
A study by Management Information Systems Quarterly suggests that after-hours interruptions may force an employee to temporarily enter “work mode.”
When enough of these interruptions occur, it starts to drain the energy spent on personal maintenance, like cooking, cleaning and caring for family members.
While disconnecting-from-work laws have good intentions, their implementation is more difficult, says Uchechukwu Ngwaba, a law professor at Ryerson.
He believes that disconnect from work policies may promote tolerance and realistic work expectations.
However, as an academic, addressing out-of-work emails and working overtime comes from his professional expectations and competition, not official policy.
”Expectations in work culture is not something you can legislate away,” Ngwaba said.
While New York and Ontario have proposed laws addressing the right to disconnect, such laws are already a part of the European workplace.
According to UNI Global Union, countries like Spain, France and Italy had right-to-disconnect legislation by 2019.
Without an explanation for how the Working for Workers Act will be implemented, instructors like Michael Halinski worry the law may be a roadblock, rather than a benefit.
Halinski, a business professor at Ryerson, cites the example of Volkswagen, which shuts down its email servers at the end of each workday.
“In other occupations, I can see how the right to disconnect can help, but I don’t think the university is the right place for it,” said Halinski. “Most students don’t work 9 to 5 and I’d want to respond during the hours that work for them.“
Even for those within the same industry, laws on the right to disconnect could have varying effects.
Neil Rothenberg, a part-time business professor at Ryerson, says that if he only responded during work hours, students might wait a week for a reply.
“I think the intention to limit overwork is good, employees are being overloaded,” said Rothenberg. “But it won’t be practical in fields where things need to be dealt with outside of work hours.”
If passed, the Working for Workers Act will be Canada’s first legislation protecting the right of workers to disconnect after work.