Workers of the world, put down that phone!

The federal government is considering whether or not to update federal labour standards to give employees the right to ignore work emails at home. We spoke to two labour lawyers on either side of the issue to get their take.

Labour lawyers debate the pros and cons of ignoring those after-hours emails

Do you check your work email before bed? The federal government is considering whether to update federal labour standards to give workers the right to ignore job-related emails outside regular working hours. (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Do you peek at your work email while you're on vacation? Do you check your phone before going to bed at night, either to make sure some crisis isn't unfolding or to curry favour with the boss?

It can be hard to unplug from the office in today's connected world, and now the federal government is looking at updating federal labour laws to give employees the right to ignore work emails when they're off the clock.

It's called the right to disconnect, and it's been the law in France for more than a year. The legislation gives employees at French companies with more than 50 workers the right to ignore emails outside standard working hours.

Now that Canadian officials are considering whether to look at the issue while they're reshaping federal labour standards, the debate is heating up.

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning spoke to two labour lawyers on either side of the issue: Jacques Emond represents employers, and Wassim Garzouzi represents employees and unions.

'The world has changed'

Emond said today's work environment is much different than when 40-hour work weeks were set in stone. Now employees make the choice to stay connected to work, he said.

"The world has changed.... We're all wanting to [know] what's happening."

Jacques Emond, an Ottawa labour lawyer who represents employers, says times have changed, and so have employers' expectations. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

Cases of burnout and overwork are "isolated," Emond said, and if someone feels they're being harassed, there are already procedures and regulations in place to protect workers.

"Businesses survive by competition, and [by] being able to provide a better service, better products, better operations than their competitor," he said. "We have to live with that."

'Maybe it's not that urgent'

Garzouzi, meanwhile, said employees should have the option of leaving work behind. If they choose to continue working once they've left the office, they should be properly compensated, he said.

"If employees had the right to disconnect or say, 'Sure, I'll continue working from home but I want to be paid,' I suspect that all of these emergency connectivity issues would suddenly go away, and people would realize maybe it's not that urgent that I respond to an email at 9 p.m.," he said.

Wassim Garzouzi, an Ottawa labour lawyer who represents employees and unions, believes workers should have the right to ignore those after-hours emails. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

In his experience, Garzouzi said it's rare for an employer to actually punish an employee for failing to respond to emails sent after hours, but it's equally rare for employees to refuse.

Instead, employees say they're tired or stressed out, risking reassignment — or unemployment.

""You're supposed to be working eight hours a day, and when you go home you shouldn't be continuing to be doing work. That's your time," Garzouzi said.

Want to hear more? You can listen to the entire debate below:

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning


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