Experts agree that when the Saskatchewan government makes changes to its Employment Act as part of a review, it should set clear boundaries about how available employees should be when not at the office.
The Saskatchewan government is considering making provisions in the Employment Act in the first substantive review in more than a decade including considering work hours and layoffs.
It’s also looking at changes to disconnect workers from their office life when they’re at home.
“For many, many people, the demands of their work has significant interference in terms of their home and personal life,” said Kiffer Card, a health sciences professor at Simon Fraser University.
The Right to Disconnect — as it is referenced in a discussion paper that highlights sections of the Employment Act for feedback and as its called in Ontario — has no position in the act yet.
With employment now portable in the form of cellphones and laptops, the government is asking if the regulations around work hours and how available employees are to their employer need to be shifted and have included the Right to Disconnect as an aspect for feedback.
“The more control an employer has over the time when an employee must be available for work, the more likely it is compensable time,” the paper says.
The government has opened the floor to feedback about its discussion paper, the proposed changes to the act or any aspect of the employment standards on Monday, and will accept it until Oct. 31.
Its goal is to create “a fair and balanced employment environment” and to “modernize the legislation” amid an evolving work environment, according to provincial Labour Minister Don Morgan.
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Card says many employees are often found tethered to their devices and it’s important to find an appropriate balance between personal connection and work-related tasks.
The pressure to be continuously available outside of standard working hours is problematic, he said, though a balanced hybrid work environment can be beneficial.
“If there’s constantly this expectation that you will be on call or able to come in for a shift, then that’s going to impact how much you can devote and invest your time and attention to people in your life,” Card said.
He said evidence shows that healthy boundaries and strong social lives makes for happier employees, and legislation can help set those boundaries.
The Right to Disconnect legislation has not addressed the nuances of a hybrid work environment, focusing on emails and phone conversations, but that could be considered in legislation, he suggested.
Lori Johb, president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, said the federation will be providing feedback when it has more time to digest the province’s request.
“I think that it’s important that workers and employers understand that they do not need to be at the beck and call of their employer, and I think the legislation needs to reflect that.”
Johb added that if employees are in that position, they need to be properly compensated and that any legislation should address gender inequities for work-life balances.
She also suggested Saskatchewan could look at Ontario’s recent right to disconnect regulations and improve on them.
How does working from home affect employees?
Laura Cavanagh, a psychology professor at Seneca College in Toronto, says working from home is beneficial but with a catch: it can be a strain on people’s mental health without the social interaction of a workplace and the constant access to work phones and laptops while at home.
“Our entire home has kind of become our workplace and so that makes it really difficult in a psychological perspective to separate work and our personal life,” she said.
While it provides easy access when people have a sudden urge to send another email or add a couple more lines to a report, it can increase peoples’ risk of burnout, said Cavanagh.
That’s not just a work-from-home issue, she argues, but a modern technology issue that shows regulations like a Right to Disconnect are overdue.
“No matter what industry you’re in, you really are affected by the fact that technology has made us reachable,” she said.