Town creates “disconnect from work” policy for employees

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Council briefs

Town employees will have the right to disconnect from work codified into policy following Monday night’s meeting of Fort Frances town council.

Item 5.4 on the agenda for the committee of the whole saw a report which recommended council adopt a new policy for town employees regarding the right to disconnect from work, which is defined as “not engaging in work-related communications, including emails, telephone cals, video calls or the sending or reviewing of other messages” when not currently working. The policy is a response to Bill 27, the Working for Workers Act, 2021, which requires employers with 25 or more employees to have a written policy that tackles the right to disconnect from work.

The town notes that the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development has released guidance for employers related to the new changes under the act, highlighting that the employer can determine the content of its own “disconnecting from work” policy, as the Employment Standards Act (ESA) does not specify what information an employer needs to include in any such policy.

The draft written up by town administration and brought before council says that the ability to disconnect from work is “important for an individual’s wellbeing and helps employees achieve a healthy and sustainable work-life balance.” According to the policy, workers rights to disconnect from work depend on the Town’s operational needs as well as the duties and obligations of the employee’s position, subject to their contract, collective agreement or minimum statutory entitlements under the ESA.

Coun. John McTaggart voiced his support for the policy, calling back to his many years in private business where he worked “all kinds of oddball hours” and sought to make sure the same hours weren’t imposed on his staff, but sought clarification on what the policy would mean in the event of an emergency that occurred outside of regular working hours.

“The town has many of its services that run around the clock all year long,” he said.

“It’s a 24-hour operation. We have scheduled on-call staff to deal with emergent issues. My question is, should the matter be of a serious enough nature, does the policy language allow for say, the manager or CAO to be contacted with the obligation that they respond to the matter at hand?”

Alyssha Hansma, the town’s Human Resources manager, explained that the policy does include language to allow the town to reach out to staff for emergency purposes.

“It outlines that we have to inform staff what their working hours would entail,” Hansma said.

“That would include on-call. We would outline the expectations to staff that they may be required in emergent situations. For unionized staff, their hours would be dictated by their collective agreements.”

Also discussed at Monday night’s meeting was a report that recommended a tender for a sprinkler system to be installed at the 52 Canadians Arena be awarded to Tom Jones Corporation at the price of $558,800, including $35,000 in allowances. The report prepared for council notes that the roof of the 52 Canadians Arena is made of combustible timbers and “is of a design that is known to fail quickly and catastrophically in the event of a fire,” a problem councils have been warned of by the town’s Building Officials and Fire Chiefs over a period of 20 years. The installation of the sprinkler system is now part of the multi-year renovation project currently underway at the Memorial Sports Centre.

McTaggart expressed some concern at the cost of the tender, noting it is in excess of the amount budgeted for the project, and wondered if that would mean corners would have to be cut in other areas to make up for the overrun. The town’s Operations and Facilities manager Travis Rob noted that because the entire project of renovating the Sports Centre is comprised of several smaller projects over several years, the overrun on this particular project will hopefully be made up by tenders coming in under budget in other areas in the future.

“The way that the project was structured is that the highest priority, most critical work was scheduled within the first couple of years, with the understanding that we were probably going to have some some wins and some losses in terms of costing,” Rob said.

“So the sacrificial lamb, so to speak, would be happening in the fourth and fifth years of the project. And anything that we would be cutting out, any changes in scope, would also have to run through our funder as part of this as well. So we’re hoping to have some wins on some projects so that the impact will be minimal, but time will tell in terms of how things go from here.”

Other items on the agenda included a policy to enact a process for a Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Performance Appraisal, to occur once every year in September, save for election years, at which point the review would take place one month earlier to avoid conflicts in the event of a lame duck situation. The aim of the CAO Performance Review, as stated by the draft policy, is to ensure the CAO and council “can jointly decide on any personal development goals and establish key performance objectives that are tied to the annual performance review feedback.”

Council also appointed Mark Bridge as the new By-Law Enforcement Officer, awarded a tender for a new aircraft refueler truck to SkyMark Refuelers, and approved a recommendation to begin the process of installing a memorial bench at the Riverview Cemetery Columbarium.

Council also discussed a planned spray pad to be located at Lillie Avenue. For more on that story, and to view the accompanying concept designs, see Thursday’s issue of the Daily Bulletin.