After becoming more widespread due to the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work arrangements are here to stay in Canada, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based employment lawyer told attendees at a recent conference in Vancouver.
“Now that we are entering a post-pandemic phase, some workplace trends remain. Work-from-home and hybrid arrangements remain, while many employees still resist a regimented return to the office,” said Cameron Wardell, a lawyer for Mathews. Dinsdale and Clark, at the 2023 Human Resources Conference & Expo hosted by Chartered Professionals in Human Resources of British Columbia and Yukon.
In a 2021 study by Statistics Canada, 90 percent of respondents said they feel like they are just as productive, or even more productive, while working from home. Employees in Canada have said that working from home has increased their work/life flexibility due to reduced commute time, increased job satisfaction, more quality time with their families, and reduced need for childcare.
Employees in Canada generally don’t have the legal right to work from home or another remote location, but there are some exceptions, Wardell noted.
“If there are human rights issues (disability or family status), an employer may have an obligation to accommodate, but only to the point of undue hardship,” he explained. Still, employers should “approach a remote or hybrid office proposal with a flexible mind.”
Canadian federal workers strike for wages and remote work
More than 155,000 federal government workers in Canada went on strike for more than two weeks this spring for higher wages, with a request for remote work arrangements one of the main bargaining points.
According to the Public Service Alliance of Canada union, the country’s government has agreed to review remote work on a case-by-case basis, as well as revise its Telework Directive.
The Canadian government currently has a hybrid work policy that allows employees to work from home up to three days a week, Treasury Board Chair Mona Fortier said in a statement.
The changes could also be good news for non-government employees, as gains made by public sector employees eventually trickle down to the private sector, Jean-Nicolas Reyt, an associate professor at McGill University in Montreal, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. .
Occupational health and safety in a home office
According to WorkSafeBC, British Columbia’s workers’ compensation insurer, employers in the province should have a work-from-home and safety policy. This policy should require workers to assess their work space and report any potential hazards to their manager, Wardell said.
The policy must include:
- Evacuation protocols from the worker’s home to a safe place in case of emergency.
- Safe work practices for reporting work-related incidents or injuries.
- Communication procedures to control employees who work alone or in isolation.
- Ergonomic considerations for home office equipment.
Protection of Confidential Employer Information
Remote offices and home environments also present employers with significant security challenges, such as how to protect sensitive information, ensure data security and privacy, and securely destroy paper documents, Wardell said.
He recommended that companies take a two-pronged approach to protecting sensitive information. Employers should write a contract that requires employees to take reasonable steps to protect company documents, while creating flexible and specific policies about how to manage company-provided equipment and how employees may use that equipment.
“The contract is the backbone of the employer’s position, while policies can be changed and revised,” Wardell said.
Catherine Skrzypinski is a freelance writer in Vancouver, BC