Photo: CC, Anne Karakash.
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Should workers responding to after-hour emails be the expectation or the exception?

Increasingly, people are taking their work home with them, and continuing off the clock—students are no exception to this pattern.

In fact, students in particular may feel they have to work harder or for more hours in order to prove themselves in the workplace. Especially if they’re working an hourly, minimum wage, entry-level position, which most of us are when just starting out. Employees in these positions may feel like they are easily replaceable, and as a result may pick up extra hours, work around the clock and attempt to make themselves indispensable to the companies they work for.

But according to a recent CBC article, the right to ignore work emails may soon be introduced into Canadian federal labour laws.  “The right to disconnect” has already been introduced in France and has been there for over a year. In France, the legislation protects employees of companies with more than 50 workers.

So what does this potential new legislation mean for Canada’s working students, especially those who don’t work a typical 9 to 5 shift?

In my opinion, this legislation shouldn’t be applied equally across the board and should instead be applied on a case by case basis.  

Students who work in industries like retail shouldn’t be obligated to respond to their employers’ request to come in outside of their scheduled hours. These students shouldn’t be penalized or looked down upon for not responding. Alternatively, it’s worth noting that students in other positions may need to respond to urgent emails as part of their industry’s standard, especially if they work in fast-moving fields like social media or journalism.

Students who work in positions where responding to emails outside of standard work hours is an expectation, like managerial positions, but are paid hourly, should be compensated for staying connected to their work.  

This potential legislation may also have a positive impact on student’s academic lives and mental health. Turning after-hour email into an optional task may allow students to focus more on their studies and balance their work-study lives better. Once a student gets home from work, their boss shouldn’t expect them to be “on-call” and respond to their emails right away, unless they’re being compensated and the position demands it.

In today’s interconnected society, it’s important that there are ground rules established for an employee’s right to disconnect from work. Employers need to respect the fact that employees have lives outside of standard work hours. According to this Global News article, researchers from Virginia Tech have found the expectation to stay connected to work after-hours can have detrimental effects on one’s health.

Just because a boss can contact you outside of work hours, doesn’t necessarily mean they should. Responding to work emails shouldn’t be the expectation, but the exception.