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March 2021

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

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

In part one of this article we examined some of the legal issues and risks employers must consider when their work force has shifted from working in the office to working from home. In part two we aim to provide an overview of some of the important considerations for employees during this time.

Open communication with your employer 
As discussed in part one of this article, employees’ home work environments fall under the broad definition of “workplace” in the Occupational Health and Safety Act.i  As such, employees are entitled to have a safe and productive work environment. In addition, whether at home or at the office, employees are protected from discrimination and harassment under the Canadian Human Rights Act. 

Since employers are not able to be present in the same workplace as their employees, they may not be aware of poor work conditions or potential discrimination or harassment. To ensure employees’ needs are met and any situations that arise are promptly resolved, employees should maintain open and frequent communication with their employer. This way, both parties are working together towards maintaining a productive, safe and positive work environment. Each business will have their own policies regarding employee accommodations and these may have changed since the pandemic arose. Employees should consult their employer for specific information about these matters.

Managing work time
Since the commencement of the pandemic, our day to day lives have experienced considerable change. Working from home presents new challenges to employees as home and work responsibilities start to overlap and time management becomes a critical issue. In Ontario, the Employment Standards Act mandates basic work rights such as limits to hours of work, vacation, minimum wage and more. The Act considers “work” time to be performed when the employee is actually working or not working but required to remain at the workplace.ii The Act also mandates that the maximum number of hours most employees can be required to work per day is eight hours (or the number of hours in an established work day, if longer).iii  The maximum daily number of work hours can only be exceeded by written agreement between the employer and employee. When there is no longer a definite ‘end’ to a work day, employees should be aware of their required maximum work hours and should discuss with their employer if they find that they are consistently required to exceed these hours without a written agreement in place.

Employees should be encouraged to keep track of their work hours and breaks in order to effectively manage their time and to ensure that their work hours fall within the legislated guidelines. More flexibility while working from home also means greater responsibility on the employee to ensure their work time is properly managed.

Making sure work data is private and safe
As discussed in part one of this article, work data privacy is an issue that employees must also turn their minds to. Employers can take precautions by ensuring that their employees have software security programs and firewalls on their work computers or cell phones, however it is ultimately up to employees to adequately utilize these and other security measures.

Employees can help protect work data by updating security programs when prompted and regularly changing passwords on their computer or work cell phone as well as their home wi-fi network. Being aware of security risks and avoiding them is crucial. As much as possible, employees should avoid accessing work data over public wi-fi networks, instead using a personal hotspot if necessary. Although it may seem obvious, employees ought to consider who may be able to view their work computer or phone screen. Minimizing this type of exposure is another way for employees to avoid a potential security breach. If employees notice any issues, they should advise their employer promptly.

It is highly likely that working in the office every day will not be part of our new normal when this pandemic ends. While employers and employees have learned a lot in 2020, the rising number of new employment disputes resulting from work from home will create new legal risks. In order to mitigate the risk of employment disputes, we encourage all of our legal expense insurance policyholders to call the DAS Legal Helpline as the information and assistance provided by our Helpline Lawyers will help ensure these legal risks are well managed. 

                                                                                    
i Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, Retrieved November 16, 2020, from https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90o01
ii Guide to the Ontario Employment Standards Act. Retrieved November 17, 2020, from  https://www.ontario.ca/document/your-guide-employment-standards-act-0/hours-work
iii Guide to the Ontario Employment Standards Act. Retrieved November 17, 2020, from  https://www.ontario.ca/document/your-guide-employment-standards-act-0/hours-work

 
Posted: 3/3/2021 11:21:12 AM by Joanna Milnes


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