Q&A: Employee and Employers Rights when Working From Home

man working at desk with 3 monitors

Posted by heritagelaw on Oct 13, 2020 in Blog, Employment Law

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically shifted the dynamic of workplaces across the globe.

A vast number of employees have found themselves packing up the office and working from home.

While this is great news in terms of employment continuance in the face of many workplace shutdowns, it creates an interesting change in the way work is carried out.

It also raises some very important questions about employment rights and law.

Here are common questions and answers regarding work-from-home situations:

Do Employees Need New Contracts to Address Remote Work?

As a matter of law, employees do not need new contracts when working from home. 

Contracts generally cover the terms of employment, including compensation/pay, confidentiality agreements, and employee duties.

Unless any of those factors of employment are going to be affected by a work-from-home situation, it’s unlikely that an employer will draft a new contract.

However, employers may decide to revise or put in place new policies to accommodate the new situation.

Does the Employer Need to Change Any Policies?

If working from home was implemented by an employer as an emergency measure, such as in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unlikely that the changes will be accepted as permanent.

However, working in a new environment means new expectations and terms must be clarified.

Employers may make temporary changes to current policies to ensure that the terms of the employment contract can continue to be carried out.

How Can an Employer Manage the Potential for Overtime?

First of all, employers should define performance expectations and make a clear statement in terms of work hours and breaks.

Despite having employees in a work-from-home environment, the obligations under provincial employment standards legislation still stand – including the maximum hours per week an employee is allowed to work.

In order to manage work hours, employees need to figure out a way to record their employees’ hours. 

Not only will this help to keep working hours within the labor laws, but employers are still responsible to pay their employees overtime rates if they work more than their scheduled hours.

How Can an Employer Manage Employees Working Less Than Normal?

On the opposite end of that issue is trying to ensure that employees are working their scheduled hours and doing the work that is expected of them.

Without supervision, employees are still going to be required to dedicate their full time and attention to their job.

Employers will have to find ways not only to record hours worked but productivity and attendance as well.

It is these types of situations in which an employer may want to implement a new policy regarding work-from-home expectations.

Are There Any Privacy Concerns With Employees Working with Company Information at Home?

Allowing employees to work from home can be a tricky endeavor since this could involve allowing employees to take home company documents and other property.

Employers need to consider how their data is going to be stored and protected when allowing employees to work from home.

Policy updates regarding privacy and intellectual property are in the best interest of the employer.

Are There Any Privacy Concerns Involving Children and Other Members of the Household?

When it comes to sensitive information and phone conversations, employees are responsible for setting up a private workspace in their home.

This includes taking reasonable measures to ensure screen content is not visible to other members of the household as well as keeping video and phone conversations private.

Also, any work-issued or personal computers should be secured with passwords and other appropriate forms of encryption.

Confidentiality, as mentioned earlier, is usually included in the employment contract. These stipulations do not change even if the work environment does.

Employers should update policies regarding privacy when they have employees working from home.

Are Employers Obligated to Buy Equipment for Use at Home?

Yes and no.

It all depends on whether the equipment is a necessity or comfort

The employer is responsible to pay for equipment that is required to do the job expected of the employee. This includes such things as equipment and phones or any other equipment necessary in the industry.

However, items such as ergonomic chairs and desks are often left to the responsibility of the employee.

The good news for employees is that additional costs to work from home may be tax-deductible, including additional equipment and increases in utility costs and internet service.

The New Normal

Both employers and employees are responsible for ensuring that work is carried out in accordance with the employment contracts.

Employees have the right to expect certain accommodations to make sure this can be done from home.

Employers have the right to expect that the work will be done to the best of the employee’s abilities.

If you are in a work-from-home situation and feel you are being treated unfairly by your employee given the current circumstances, it may be necessary to seek legal counsel.

Our team of lawyers at Heritage Law can assess your situation and ensure your employee rights are upheld even as you work from home.

Get in touch with us today!