Woman working at her desk looking at her phone

Do you know about the right to disconnect?

Do you know about the right to disconnect?

With the arrival of new technologies and smartphones, people can be connected 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It also means that they can be reached at any time, including by their employers. However, more and more scientists are beginning to see a correlation between these technological tools and workers’ health.

A survey [1] was conducted by the American Psychological Association to assess whether people stay connected outside of work hours. The results were quite conclusive: 53% of respondents said they check their email at least once on the weekend and 52% check their email at least once before and after work hours. The most telling statistic from the survey was that 54% of respondents said they check their email when they are physically away from work for a sick day and 44% do so even when they are on vacation.

On January 1, 2017, in France, we had witnessed the implementation of a new right in labour in the workplace: the right to disconnect. This right refers to periods of time when the employee should be cut off from all work-related communications. In other words, times when the employee can “unplug”. This right made its entry through the Law of August 8, 2016 relating to work, the modernization of social dialogue and the securing of professional paths and came to modify the French Labour Code [2].

This new provision imposes several obligations on the employer with respect to the right to disconnect.

Woman working at her desk looking at her phone

The employer has:

  • In the first instance, the obligation to negotiate with the trade union delegates or the works council (institution representing non-unionized staff) on an annual basis with the employees on how to exercise this right in the company.
  • In the absence of an agreement, the employer must draw up a charter setting out the terms and conditions for exercising this right. For example, the employer could establish certain hours during which it is prohibited to send e-mails to its employees.
  • The employer also has an obligation to implement a system of regulation and management of digital devices in the company to educate employees on the reasonable use of these devices [3].

However, it should be noted that the law does not impose precise and quantifiable rules on the employer, other than that of negotiating. Nor is there any precise definition of the terms and conditions that must be put in place. The French legislator decided to do this so that the rules put in place would reflect the reality of employees as closely as possible.

Some good "unplugging" practices

Although the right to disconnect has not been implemented elsewhere, some movement is growing at the initiative of the companies themselves. This is the case of Volkswagen, which has implemented a policy whereby all its servers are disconnected between 6pm and 7am. [4]. This policy now extends to more than 3,000 non-executive employees [5].

Recently, in Quebec, several new provisions concerning the Act respecting labour standards have come into force [6]. These provisions include an obligation for the employer to implement an internal policy on harassment, possible days of absence to help a loved one, the addition of a week of vacation for employees with three years of continuous service, and much more. However, none of these new provisions address the right to disconnect.

The Québec Solidaire deputy, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, has therefore introduced Bill 1097: An Act on the right to disconnect in the National Assembly [7]. This bill aimed to introduce an obligation for the employer to put in place a specific disconnection policy for employees outside their working hours.

This obligation differed depending on the size of the company and provided for the following [8] :
  • For companies with less than 100 employees: the employer must develop the policy itself after consultation with the employees. This policy must be approved by the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité au travail (CNESST) and must be renewed every two years.
  • For companies with 100 or more employees: the policy must be developed by a committee created within the company, at least half of whose members are employees. The policy must be reviewed annually.

Unlike the French legislation, this bill also provided for penal provisions if the employer does not comply with the law. Fines of up to $15,000 for companies with less than 100 employees and up to $30,000 for companies with 100 or more employees are involved.

Unfortunately, the life of the Quebec bill was quite short. Indeed, following its introduction on March 22, 2018, MNA Nadeau-Dubois failed to get the consent of the assembly to debate the bill. According to Dominique Vien, then Minister of Labour, this issue did not seem to create any problems with the various groups that were consulted for the reform of the Act respecting labour standards [9].

Yet researchers at the University of British Columbia have also attempted to demonstrate a link between frequent e-mail checking and stress levels. For one week, they gave 124 adults very limited access to their e-mail. During the other week, the same participants were given unlimited access. Participants experienced significantly lower stress levels when they had restricted access to their e-mail [10].

In addition, a research conducted by Virginia TechUniversity attempted to demonstrate the impact of checking emails outside of work on people’s health. This study was able to prove that simply receiving emails outside of work hours causes stress and anxiety to workers even if they are not directly working at home. Simply feeling like you have to be available can increase stress. For these researchers, the only way to remedy this is to establish a clear company policy to reduce employees’ sense of having to be constantly available [11].

[1] Angel BROWNAWELL et Katelynn WIGGINS, «Americans Stay Connected to Work on Weekends, Vacation and Even When Out Sick», American Psychological Association, 4 septembre 2013, en ligne : <https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2013/09/connected-work> (consulté le 6 mars 2019).

[2] Loi n° 2016-1088 du 8 août 2016 relative au travail, à la modernisation du dialogue social et à la sécurisation des parcours professionnels (1), J.O., 9 août 2916, p. 138.

[3] Id.

[4] Janie-Pier JOYAL-VILLIARD, « Deviendra-t-il branché d’être déconnecté? », Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines agréés, 24 octobre 2018, en ligne : <https://ordrecrha.org/ressources/TBD/Archives/Vigie-RT/deviendra-t-il-branche-d-etre-deconnecte#5> (consulté le 6 mars 2019).

[5] Céline MORDANT, «Droit à la déconnexion : ce que font (ou pas) les entreprises pour lutter contre l’invasion des mails professionnels», dans Le Monde, 9 mars 2016, en ligne : <https://www.lemonde.fr/economie/article/2016/03/14/les-premiers-pas-des-drh-contre-l-invasion-du-mail-professionnel_4882136_3234.html> (consulté le 6 mars 2019).

[6] Loi modifiant la loi sur les normes du travail et d’autres dispositions législatives afin principalement de faciliter la conciliation famille-travail, L.Q. 2018, c. 21.

[7] Loi sur le droit à la déconnexion, projet de loi n° 1097 (Présentation – 22 mars 2018), 1re sess., 41e légis. (QC).

[8] Id.

[9] Loi modifiant la loi sur les normes du travail et d’autres dispositions législatives afin principalement de faciliter la conciliation famille-travail, préc., note 5.

[10] Kostadin KUSHLEZ et Elizabeth W. DUNN, « Checking email less frequently reduces stress », dans Computers in Human Behaviour, vol. 43, Elsevier, 2015, p. 220-228.

[11] Sookhan HO, « Employer expectations on off-hours email: new study shows adverse health effects on workers and families », dans Virginia Tech Daily, 10 août 2018 , en ligne : <https://vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2018/08/pamplin-employer-emailexpectations.html> (consulté le 6 mars 2019).

[12] Janie-Pier JOYAL-VILLIARD, « Deviendra-t-il branché d’être déconnecté? », préc., note 4.

 [13] Guide Télétravail Québec. (2021) Droit à la déconnexion : les bonnes pratiques à adopter. En ligne https://guideteletravail.quebec/droit-a-la-deconnexion-en-teletravail-les-bonnes-pratiques-a-adopter/

Frédérique Lissoir

Frédérique Lissoir

Partner & co-founder

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