The provincial government has introduced a new piece of legislation that could have a significant impact on both employers and employees, should it pass. The Working for Workers Act, 2021, introduced by Monte McNaughton, Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Training, Skills, and Development, aims to help Ontario attract global talent by making the province a top destination for employees to live and work in Canada.

The Act provides for several changes, however, the issues receiving the most attention to date are proposals to require employers to respect a worker’s right to disconnect and banning the use of non-compete clauses in employment contracts. In designing the Act, the province consulted with workers, employers, and unions, to identify key target areas in need of change.

Below, we’ll examine some of the key changes proposed by the Act.

The Right to Disconnect

The pandemic has seen a number of workers move to a remote work environment to limit the risk of infection. While the efforts have had a positive impact on transmission rates, it has also resulted in an increase in mental health issues for workers who may feel isolated or have a harder time separating their work from their home life. According to a report released at the beginning of the year, 35% of supervisors expressed concern about the mental health of their employees, and 27% indicated their employees had become less productive since the start of the pandemic.

The company who conducted the study, Morneau Shepell, is a human resources company based in Toronto. According to Senior Vice President Paula Allen, the dip in mental health and productivity is having a negative impact not only on workers, but on their employers as well:

“At a granular level, productivity levels are actually decreasing. Putting in more hours results in less time for rest and self-care and the moment those stop being a priority, employee mental health suffers — as do business bottom lines. This demonstrates that employee well-being must be a priority in order to ensure sustainability and ultimately, business continuity.”

To address concerns around employee burnout and decreased productivity, the provincial government is considering making it a requirement for employers to respect their workers’ right to disconnect after work.

Under the proposed legislation, employers with 25 or more employees would be required to develop an internal disconnecting from work policy. The policy would be aimed at helping employees to spend more time with their families or engaging in self-care. The specifics of such a policy could include, for example, limiting expectations around the response time for emails, and encouraging employees to turn on their out-of-office notifications when not ‘on the clock’.

Banning Non-Compete Clauses

Another key change proposed in the new Act is banning the use of non-compete clauses in employment agreements. A non-compete clause serves the interests of the employer by prohibiting an employee from taking a job with a competitor of their employer for a specified period after ending the employment relationship. Many have called these types of clauses unfair because they unduly restrict the employment prospects for workers who may have limited or specialized skills.

Under the Act, employers would be permitted to protect their intellectual property via narrow clauses in an employment agreement, while preventing them from overreach. Instead, employees would be free to pursue a job in their field, allowing them to earn money and advance their careers in accordance with their experience.

If passed, Ontario would become the first jurisdiction in Canada to ban the use of non-compete clauses and agreements.

Other Changes Included in the Working for Workers Act, 2021

In addition to the changes set out above, the Act contains additional proposals to better protect workers in Ontario, including:

  • Requiring recruiters and temporary employment agencies to become licenced, in order to reduce the chances of employee exploitation.
  • Removing certain experience requirements for internationally trained workers to better facilitate immigration for skilled professionals, making it easier for those in a regulated profession to access positions that reflect their training and qualifications.
  • Supporting delivery drivers and couriers by requiring businesses to allow them to use washroom facilities if they are delivering or picking up items from the business.
  • Provide for the distribution of surplus funds in the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s Insurance Fund to businesses who have been impacted by COVID-19.

Opposition Encouraged, but Cautious, About Proposed Changes

In response to the changes proposed under the Working for Workers Act, 2021, leaders of the Liberal and NDP parties have indicated support, while remaining cautious pending a review of the finer points of the Act. Both parties are behind the effort to make the lives of Ontario workers healthier and more balanced but are awaiting the full wording of the Act before lending their full support.

Contact the Employment Lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP in Ottawa, North Bay, & Eastern Ontario for Advice and Representation for Employees and Employers

It remains to be seen whether the proposed changes will come to fruition, or what the finer points may look like, as the full details have yet to be released. Some have already expressed skepticism that a ‘right to disconnect’ policy could have a realistic impact on the lives of employees should it be passed, indicating that it may not be feasible for many industries or workplaces. We will continue to monitor the proposed changes and provide updates as they become available.

At Tierney Stauffer LLP, we are focused on finding effective solutions for both employees and employers facing a variety of employment disputes. Our employment lawyers have extensive experience in litigation, mediation and arbitration, enabling us to easily identify the most efficient path to resolution for our clients.
Call us at 1-888-799-8057 or contact us online to set up a consultation with an experienced lawyer.

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