What is “Quietly Quitting”? and Is it Legal?

HEL Blog post
Published On: September 19, 2022Categories: Blog, Employers

The hottest new trending term amongst millennial workers is “quietly quitting”. While the term has no definitive definition, it is commonly understood not as actually quitting but rather adopting an attitude at work of only doing the minimum required, while ensuring you take time for your personal life. It is presumably perceived as the opposite of being a “keener” who throws themselves into work, putting work first and personal life second. So are there any legal ramifications of “quietly quitting”?

The first legal point is that, broadly speaking, there is no obligation of employees to go “above and beyond” their job description. While some employers may expect all employees to be keeners and “go the extra mile” by giving priority to work over personal life, including putting in both extra time and effort, this is not a legal requirement. In fact, most non-managers are entitled to demand overtime pay if working beyond 8 hours in a day or 40 in a week. That being said, employees who only do the minimum can hardly complain if they are not promoted or get laid-off before the keeners.

On the other hand, there are a couple of legal constraints on “quiet quitting”:

  • “A day’s work for a day’s pay”: This old adage is still reflected in the law. Absent an agreement otherwise, employers are generally entitled to expect that employees will put in a full day of work, even when working remote. Employees who spend a large part of their paid work day on personal or other business activities are engaging in “time theft” and can be disciplined and eventually fired. That being said, the more flexible hours typical of a remote work environment, can make it harder to prove “time theft” since the employee may claim to have “made up the time” on weekends or evenings. As with any other employee misconduct, employers must be able to prove the employee was not working for large portions of the paid work day—and did not make up the time later.

One extreme form of “quietly quitting” is taking on a second full time remote job and juggling both jobs but receiving two full time pay cheques. Just taking on the second job or business may be contrary to the employee’s terms of employment, particularly if the other job is with a competitor. With only so many working hours available in a day, it also almost inevitably means there is some “time theft” going on. But employers often have no way of knowing the employee has another job or business on the side.

  • Insubordination: Some quiet quitters ignore their manager’s request that extra work be done in hopes the manager forgets about it. However, unless the request is somehow unlawful (and subject to entitlement to overtime if extra time is needed), the law still expects employees to comply with the directives of their manager. Failure to do by ignoring a request on the assumption “it’s not important” is insubordination. Repeated refusal to perform requested work or tasks will, after warnings, be grounds for dismissal as well.

Although coasting or doing the minimum is nothing new, it has been relabeled and taken up by the millennial generation. While not necessarily a breach of the employee’s obligations, “quietly quitting” is hardly what most employers want their employees to be doing. That being said, in the current hot job market where replacing the unmotivated employee may be difficult, they may have to put up with it for the time being.

If you want more information on this topic, you can contact us at:

Geoffrey Howard:          ghoward@howardlaw.ca

604 424-9686

Sebastian Chern:            schern@howardlaw.ca

604 424-9688