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Smithson: Legislating work-life balance would be unwelcome step
Recent published reports indicate the Quebec government is getting into the business of promoting work-life balance.
Somewhat concerning is the prospect that this might be its first step towards legislation addressing that topic.
The Bureau de Normalisation du Quebec (BNQ) announced that it will be promoting work-life balance by offering four levels of certification to employers.
The idea seems to be that, by setting standards and offering voluntary certification, employers will have an official mechanism by which to show job seekers how great their company is.
Apparently, employers presently having trouble attracting workers will benefit by wearing the new government-issued badge of honour.
The Quebec government also seems to think that this program will help the province to better compete “locally and internationally.”
The objective is to promote a better balance between professional, family, and social responsibilities.
The BNQ called the program an “innovative solution” to what is, presumably, a widespread work-life imbalance in that province.
Now, it would be difficult to find anyone who wouldn’t say that achieving an elusive “work-life balance” would be a desirable thing.
So, I don’t want to be seen as pooh-poohing the whole concept.
But, whenever government seeks to extend its reach even farther into the workplace, I ask myself what that could possibly achieve.
No doubt it will achieve at least one thing for Quebec—yet another bureaucratic administration and enforcement structure maintained at taxpayers’ expense.
It is difficult to imagine this program achieving anything else of value.
One potential problem is that every employer may feel compelled to obtain the certification and, once they do, having the government’s stamp of approval won’t differentiate one employer from any other.
Another problem is that the program compels participating employers to (among other things) construct new training programs, implement new policies, institute communications around work-life balance, and provide a designated person responsible for administering the program.
Many employers will, justifiably, view this as yet another unprofitable level of business administration imposed by government.
What’s really troubling about this new program is that it appears to be the first step towards introducing legislation around work-life balance.
A representative of BNQ was quoted as stating the Quebec government is keen to introduce such legislation and that they are starting with the voluntary certification program to see if it works.
Maybe it’s my own political leaning coming to the surface, here, but the thought of government imposing mandatory work-life balance standards on employers concerns me.
It should also concern every employer.
My own view is that wise governments only intrude on private relationships—such as the one between employer and employee—to the smallest degree possible.
Government involvement in areas such as workplace safety, discrimination, and enforcing certain minimum standards (wages, overtime pay, etc.) may be unavoidable.
But these are objective standards which are broadly applicable across industries and across private circumstances and situations.
Work-life balance is, on the contrary, an amorphous concept that will surely defy any valid definition.
Simply put, what qualifies as an appropriate balance between home and work life is different for every one of us.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see that work-life balance legislation would likely result in a whole new strain of “accommodation” obligations for employers.
This would be a continuation of an apparently broad-based government agenda to force Canadian employers to render themselves suitable and accessible to every possible applicant.
This approach compels all employers to adhere to cookie-cutter standards to accommodate all possible job seekers.
Legislating work-life balance would be a further, significant and unwelcome step in that direction.
Robert Smithson is a labour and employment lawyer, and operates Smithson Employment Law in Kelowna. This subject matter is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.