As the years go by, the reality and expectation to accommodate work over personal life have become more normal. In the case of Hilton v. Norampac Inc (2003), represented by Principal of Lecker & Associates Bram Lecker, the court reviewed facts regarding child care commitments that interfered with employment.
Michael Hilton, the plaintiff, worked for Norampac Inc. for 15 years as a tour foreman. His initial contract included scheduled work two weekends per month. In May 2000, Norampac Inc. required tour foremen to be on-call every 6th weekend and to do so without any additional pay. Hilton refused to do so because of child-care commitments, specifically because it would be nearly impossible to respond to weekend on-call matters on short notice. On June 5, 2000, Hilton proposed an alternative: to be on-call during the week or to be demoted to a unionized position. Both options were refused, and Hilton was given until June 7, 2000, to reconsider. On June 6, 2000, Hilton had to take his child to the hospital in the evening and could not respond to the ultimatum. In response, he was terminated on June 7, 2000, for refusing to accept the duties and responsibilities of a tour foreman.
The court opined that the change to Hilton’s contract was unilateral and therefore the termination that followed was considered a wrongful dismissal. Hilton was unaware of the ultimatum because it fell outside working hours. Therefore, failure to respond in the required timeframe did not equate to refusing his duties and responsibilities.
Why does it matter now?
The issue of work-life balance has come up time and time again in the workforce. In more recent years, and specifically, during the COVID-19 era, employees have merged work and personal life into one set by working from home. While this option has many advantages, such as working in a more comfortable or quaint workspace, spending time with your family, and skipping rush-hour every day, it does not come without its challenges. Implicit expectations from employers have risen, employees continue tasks passed 5:00 pm, and work emails are still being responded to at 10:00 pm.
Working for Workers Act
To preserve work-life balance, the Ontario government passed the Working for Workers Act (the “Act”) on November 30, 2021. This act requires Ontario businesses with 25 people or more to have a written policy about employees’ rights – specifically for disconnecting from jobs at the end of the day. The “right to disconnect” encourages employees to turn off their work-related notifications at the end of the day and be free from the performance of work. By implementing policies that prioritize workers’ mental health and family, the Ontario government is creating an environment for employees to want to work for companies in this province.
As of March 2022, employers should have these policies in place. The purpose of this Act can save employees such as Hilton from being wrongfully dismissed based on failing to respond to employer ultimatums or questions outside of working hours. It rebalances the scales of work and life and gives employees a little more control over their lives.
If you have any doubts about the way you are being treated by your employer, call us. Our team of experienced Toronto Employment Lawyers will assess your situation and provide legal advice to support you.