Silencing your email notifications after work is not only a good idea to improve your work-life balance, but some companies are now required by law to allow you to unplug. New legislation requires Ontario businesses with 25 or more employees to have a written policy in place about employees’ rights to disconnect from their job at the end of the workday. 

A novel concept in labour law

Bill 27, the Working for Workers Act (WWA), was introduced by the Ontario government in October 2021 and received Royal Assent on December 2, 2021. Each year, eligible businesses would have two months, January 1 to March 1, to ensure their work-life balance policies are in place and compliant with the WWA. 

The WWA also bans the use of non-compete clauses, which are used to legally prevent employees and ex-employees from exploring other work opportunities within the same field. According to the Ontario government, the banning of non-compete clauses is the first regulation of its kind in Canada and one of the first in North America.

The ideas behind the WWA have received positive feedback from across the aisle, as it aims to prioritize the well-being of workers in the face of an economy where working long hours has become normalized, as profits increase for corporations at the expense of these workers. The WWA allows for a work-life balance and worker empowerment in the face of changing technologies, automation, and remote work, which helps companies to continue attracting highly skilled workers into the province. 

Stricter rules for employers and recruiters

Other changes as part of the WWA include the mandatory licensing of recruiters and temporary help agencies, which will help protect vulnerable workers from being exploited and impose harsh penalties on recruiters who charge illegal fees. This would also help international workers and internationally trained individuals find jobs in their fields. 

Advocates for migrants to Canada have criticized the legislation, specifically because of its weak enforcement tools for ensuring that recruiters and temporary help agencies are properly licensed. Many organizations rely on professional recruiters to hire migrant workers in the food supply, tourism, and fishery industries. Advocates argue that the fines are too small to be a deterrent to exploitative behaviors. Specifically, they have asked for an automatic fine of $15,000 for employers who have not used a legitimately licensed agency to recruit employees, as well as a security bond of a minimum of $25,000 against licensed recruiters. These security bonds would be paid by recruiters to cover fines if they violate laws regarding the hiring of migrant workers.

Lastly, migrant advocates have criticized the WWA for how it places the onus on employees and migrant workers to prove that they have paid an illegal recruitment fee in cases of mistreatment, which is counterproductive to protecting their rights. They have argued that the onus needs to be put on employers to ensure the elimination of exploitative behaviors, such as charging prospective workers illegal recruitment fees. 

Reading the fine print

According to the minister of labour, training and skills development, Monte McNaughton, the WWA puts the worker in the driver’s seat of Ontario’s economic growth, and demonstrates the essential role that the workers play but were not recognized for, until now. 

On the other hand, there has been some negative feedback on the legislation, with issues being raised about unclear definitions and harsh penalties. For example, the ban on non-compete clauses does not apply to those in ‘executive roles.’ 

The WWA does not provide guidance on what the term ‘executive’ entails, meaning that those affected will have to take the Employment Standards Act into consideration and see how an ‘executive’ is defined within their own contexts. This would mean looking at the actual duties of an employee rather than simply the title of their role — which may include ‘executive’ or ‘chief’ — in order to determine whether non-compete clauses would apply to them or not. 

New graduates entering the workforce for the first time would only be protected by the WWA’s disconnecting from work policies, if they accept a job offer from a company with at least 25 employees. The graduates should pay close attention to see if there are non-compete clauses in their contracts, and be prepared to advocate for themselves if needed.