Technical Corner

The Right to Disconnect Law May Not Be Applicable to All

March 20, 2023

The ORFA professional accreditation pathways were designed to assist practitioners in better understanding the roles and responsibilities associated with their positions while providing direction to be adequately prepared to apply for advanced employment opportunities. The chain of command for most recreation operations includes a director, manager, supervisor, lead hand and operator. Each have different levels of responsibilities and accountability. The primary distinction is often the compensation scale. How it is applied by employers is defined by the job description. Compensation is guided by two laws - labour and employment. Labour law guides a unionized workplace while employment law are rules regulating a non-unionized work environment.

Recreation staff that manage union environments are usually not part of the union. The relationship with their employer is usually guided by internal policy based on the fact that the individual forms part of the workplace administrative team. This relationship is usually described as an employment contract. This allows the employer to not have to strictly comply with the Employment Standards Act (ESA). These relationships suggest that the worker serves at the will of the employer, meaning that the relationship can be ended without reason or recourse at anytime. What compensation is provided should this occur is a legal matter that will need to be navigated.

A standard work week in Ontario, as defined in the ESA is 44-hours. Workers who exceed this baseline must be compensated with 1.5 times their set wage. Recreation operations that are governed by the ESA need to comprehend that there are exemptions for overtime for managers and supervisors. However, this exemption does come with a caveat. The work performed by the manager or supervisor must be “managerial or supervisory” in nature. Not all managerial or supervisory jobs always consist of purely managerial functions. At times, some managers or supervisors may be required to perform tasks that their staff also perform and this leads to confusion regarding the overtime exemption. To assist in defining these relationships, the ‘50% Rule’ was created. The 50% Rule says that if a minimum of 50% of a person’s tasks fall within a category that would normally entitle a person to overtime, then they will be entitled to receive overtime.

The introduction of Ontario Bill 27 “Right to Disconnect” gave workers the right to disconnect as a statutorily protected right to ignore work-related calls, e-mails, and other electronic messages off-work hours. This has added another layer of discussion as supervisors and managers try and determine if, they are allowed to turn their technology off and be protected for this decision. Ground zero would begin with the original job description that the manager or supervisor agreed to when hired. If there was an expectation that the candidate would be available to staff as required, then a reasonable application of this responsibility could be applied.

The guideline for Bill 27 is that all employees covered under the ESA are guaranteed at least 24 hours free from work each week, and at least 48 hours free from work every 2 weeks. Employees cannot be required to work during those periods. There is nothing in the ESA preventing supervisors and managers from being on-call 24/7. However, Courts and Tribunals generally seek to avoid interpretations that allow employers to skirt the ESA and might easily reject an employer’s argument that the job requires 24/7 attention unless that is clearly borne out by the evidence.

Managers and supervisors who are continually contacted by staff after hours need to evaluate why this happening. Managers and supervisors who have well written and maintained policy and procedures - that are used as part of an internal training program and it should empower frontline staff to perform duties with confidence. Staff should clearly understand their boundaries while being given some authority to act on behalf of supervisory staff in their absence. This is good management.

What must be learned by supervisory staff is that not every call, text or email demands an immediate response. Time management in this new technology-based work world is still being explored. Society has grown to expect that all communications will be handled in the same manner as a 911 call. One of the most important skills a manager must learn is how to train people to wait. We have all seen automated responses to an inquiry that states “thank you for contacting us, we will respond within 48-hours”. At times, a response comes much quicker. Not every phone call needs to be answered. Calls that arrive with no caller id can be treated as a phishing caller and sent to voice mail while other calls can also be redirected to voice mail based on current workload. This is referred to as “priority management” and “workload organization”.

What is often lost when new legislation is brought into effect is that government has been forced to become involved probably because society could not create reasonable application that would satisfy all involved fair and equally. Any regulatory requirement is always a minimum to be met. As much as employees will have an elevated expectation of employer’s obligation to make the workplace more efficient, the fact that the right and ability to disconnect is directly related to a supervisor’s skills to manage their work environment and cannot be lost. Quality policies, procedures, maintenance, and asset management plans that are supported by staff training are the keys to supervisory staff being able to actually disconnect. A recreation manager or supervisor must determine why their personal electronic devices are constantly buzzing at all hours of each day and fix those issues first.

    Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Director, Training and Research Development, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association

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