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February 2021

Working from Home During and After the Pandemic – An Employer’s Perspective

Working from Home During and After the Pandemic – An Employer’s Perspective

The COVID-19 pandemic has led millions of Canadians to work from home in order to comply with government requirements for physical distancing and limiting the spread of the virus. In fact, during the week of March 22 to 28 of 2020, Statistics Canada reported that approximately 4.7 million Canadians worked from home, who previously did not do so.i  

When we do emerge from being under pandemic restrictions, it is expected working from home on a full or partial basis during the work week will become a part of our new normal. That is why in this two part article we will examine the unique legal issues and risks that Canadian employers and employees potentially face as a result of this shift in our work environment.

Defining and assessing the physical work environment 

Employers and employees throughout Canada are guided by their respective provinces’ Occupational Health and Safety legislation, which outlines the rights, duties and procedures of all parties in the workplace to ensure a safe work environment.ii  Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act defines “workplace” to include: “any land, premises, location or thing at, upon, in or near which a worker works”,iii  however section 3 of the Act specifically excludes “…work performed…in or about a private residence…”. New Brunswick’s Act excludes application to “a place of employment that is a private home unless the work that is carried on has been contracted to the employer of one or more persons employed at the private home”.iv  Conversely, British Columbia’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulationv does not specifically exclude working from home. BC’s Workers’ Compensation Board, operating as WorkSafeBC, issued a health and safety guide to assist employers with developing policies for employees working from home, in which they confirm that “…working from home is an extension of the workplace and the Workers Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulation still apply.”vi  Since each province’s Occupational Health and Safety legislation may differ, employers should consider whether they have obligations under their province’s Act.

Along with any legislated requirements that may be relevant, employers should re-examine their office policies and procedures to ensure that they continue to be applicable to their employees’ new work from home environments. Given the current circumstances, employers may need to rely on their employees to conduct risk assessments based on a provided checklist to confirm that they have a safe and productive work environment. Ensuring office policies are up to date to reflect new work environments and procedures are followed will help to reduce employers’ liability and risk.

Human Rights obligations apply at the home office

Canadians are protected from discrimination and harassment in the workplace under the Canadian Human Rights Actvii. Each province also has its own human rights laws which reflect the federal Act. Just as in the office, employers have a duty to accommodate their employees so that they are not hindered or prevented from completing their work duties.

In a work from home context, this accommodation may extend to ensuring an employee with physical disabilities has an ergonomic work environment in order to be able to perform their duties. Employers may also consider accommodation in the form of flexible hours for parents juggling work and childcare as many Canadian children complete online schooling. Employers may start by opening dialogues with employees to discuss any hardships they may be facing and create solutions. Through our company policies and values, reflected by our management team, DAS promotes a safe and inclusive work environment for its employees and will not tolerate discrimination of any kind in the office or when working at home.

Making sure work data is private and safe

Working at home on a company or personal computer lends itself to new privacy and security risks. While working in the office, employees are typically operating via a secure internet connection which runs through a secure server. Other safeguards may also be in place such as additional firewalls and security programs. 

Working from home on a personal wi-fi network or working remotely on a public wi-fi network can easily create an opportunity for data leaks and hacking. Employers should ensure that updated data privacy protocols are in place to safeguard sensitive company information. For instance, employees should be required to change their wi-fi passwords regularly and ensure that they comply with company security guidelines so the passwords are more complex and not easily guessed. If an employee must work remotely (not at home), they should not be permitted to use public wi-fi for work as there is no guarantee of security and data protection. Instead, employees should connect to a personal hotspot set up with their cell phone, so they are the only ones on the network. Employers should also check in with employees to ensure that they are updating software security programs on their work devices regularly to maintain secure operations at home.

While the above noted issues may arguably be some of the most important for employers to consider at this time, there are many more. To ensure proper compliance with legislation and a reduction in risk and liability, employers may consider seeking legal assistance. With an insurance policy designed for employers to rely on in times of uncertainty, DAS Legal Protection Inc. is here to help manage legal risks every step of the way. Contact us to learn more.

                                                                                                           
i Statistics Canada, Canadian Perspectives Survey Series 1: COVID19 and working from home, 2020, Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200417/dq200417a-eng.htm
ii Occupational Health and Safety Act Ontario, Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90o01
iii Occupational Health and Safety Act Ontario, Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90o01
iv Occupational Health and Safety Act New Brunswick, Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://www.worksafenb.ca/policy-and-legal/legal/acts-and-regulations/
v Occupational Health and Safety Regulation British Columbia, Retrieved Jan 7, 2021, from https://www.bclaws.gov.bc.ca/civix/document/id/lc/statreg/296_97_00
vi WorkSafeBC, Working from Home: A Guide to Keeping Workers Healthy and Safe, April 2020, Retrieved Jan 7, 2021, from https://www.worksafebc.com/en/resources/health-safety/information-sheets/working-from-home-guide-keeping-workers-healthy-safe?lang=en
vii Canadian Human Rights Act, Retrieved November 13, 2020 from https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/h-6/page-1.html


Posted: 2/17/2021 10:48:21 AM by Joanna Milnes


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