In 2020 when the COVID-19 Pandemic occurred a vast majority of the Canadian workforce was pushed into a work from home arrangement. While this was initially a difficult transition most, with the ascent of video conferencing tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, for many it became a preferable work arrangement. The need for long commutes and the associated gas costs were eliminated, as were costly lunches at restaurants. In 2023 in a great many industries their workers now prefer to work from home with many businesses trying to come up with incentives to attract workers back into the office setting.
While many employers and employees have, up until now, only considered working from home from a convenience and health or safety angle, there are legal implications that working from home create that will likely have an impact on employment law for some time.
Employees Preferring Remote Work – Can You Put The Genie Back In The Bottle?
Initially, working from home was mandatory due to government mandates. However once these mandates were lifted, the pandemic was still in full force and a majority of workers continued to work from home if their job allowed it. Most employers preferred this as it lessened the chance of a COVID outbreak affecting their entire work force at the same time. Many employees also preferred it because of the aforementioned reasons. This arrangement carried on for a number of years as the pandemic dragged on. Now, in 2023, many employers are wanting employees to return to the office only to find out it’s not that simple.
By allowing their employees to work from home for a lengthy period, without qualifying on a regular basis that the arrangement is temporary, many employers have made the right to work from home an implied term of their employee’s employment contract. In that scenario any employer who attempted to demand their employees return to working in the office setting could face wrongful dismissal claims alleging that such a demand is contrary to their employment contracts and as such the demand to return to the office setting is essentially constructive dismissal.
The only way to avoid a scenario like this is if there is a pre-existing employment contract with language that contemplated a situation like this, which is highly unlikely considering the novel nature of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Legal Considerations to Working From Home
There are other legal considerations that many employers and employees have not turned their mind to that arise from a work from home situation.
- Is an employer obligated to providing computers, telephones, stationary, etc. for every employees home while also providing the same for the office?
- What are the Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB) implications if the worker is injured during work hours but while working at home?
- What are the implication if confidential information of a business or client is accessed by a third party over an employees internet connection?
- Does the insurance coverage a business have extend to their employees when they’re working off site?
It is clear that there are significant issues that arise from having employees work from home and it seems equally clear that most employers have not turned their mind to these discrete details and the implications they can have on a business’s exposure to potential lawsuits.
While no one could have seen the COVID-19 Pandemic coming and certainly not the ongoing effect it has had on the workplace environment, the lawyers at Taylor & Blair LLP are experienced in helping employers with litigation avoidance strategies to deal with workplace legal problems before the materialize.
Taylor & Blair Featured on Clearway Law
There has been a change in the work place environment since 2020 and it has been making a topic that is appearing in the news almost daily. Taylor & Blair LLP were pleased to have been asked for legal commentary by Clearway Law for their article about working from home, specifically the legal implications that arise out of working from home situations. Clearway Law is a website which acts as a guide with a goal to educate Canadians about the legal market and connect them with lawyers that can assist with individuals’ specific legal needs. You can our article on Clearway Law’s here.