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Do Employees Have the Right to Request Remote Work?


The COVID-19 pandemic made remote work a popular trend the world over. Countries like Germany and Ireland are already working on legislations to make the right to remote work a legal right.

In Canada, however, it is not a legal right yet. Employees cannot ask to work from home just because they’d like it. If the nature of a business does not transition well to remote work or if the workplace has taken appropriate measures to be COVID-secure, employees must come into work.

However, there are some exceptions.

In what cases am I obligated to explore the option of working from home?

Under the human rights law, employers have a duty to accommodate employees to the point of undue hardship. This applies to needs that relate to grounds of discrimination (which include ground of family status and disability).

If an employee needs to work from home because they have children but no childcare support, you are required to accommodate their request. If remote work is not possible, such employees are legally entitled to take an unpaid but job-protected leave from work.

Your staff with caregiving responsibilities can also request for remote work. As can workers with a disability or those at a high-risk of contracting COVID-19 due to factors such as age or a compromised immune system. (A disability could include a medical condition that makes the employee vulnerable to COVID-19.)

If remote work is not possible, you could also offer such employees options such as alternative work.

If you turn down requests related to grounds of discrimination, you could be exposing yourself to litigation.

Do I need to set down a remote work policy?

Yes. A written policy will make company expectations clear on attendance, breaks, remote work hours, provision of equipment, cybersecurity, team meetings, and so on.

You may also want to define time theft in your remote work policy, how it adversely affects the company, and the consequences of stealing company time. You may also want to specify in the policy that remote work is a temporary arrangement during the pandemic.

When you update your employee handbook with your remote work policy, ensure you share it with your remote employees through your company intraweb or a cloud-based HR management software like BrightHR.

Remind your staff that all company policies continue to apply to remote workers. These should include policies on drug and alcohol use and bullying and harassment.

The Occupational Health and Safety legislation still applies to staff working from home. As the employer, you must ensure the home office set-up of your employees is safe. You need to make sure they have the tools needed to set up a hazard-free home office. Read more on how to ensure the safety of remote workers here.

Need help developing a remote work policy?

Our experts can help you develop company policies as well as with any other HR, health and safety, or employment advice you may need. See how we have helped other small and medium businesses get their business compliant with provincial legislation.

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