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There's no place like (working at) home

But what's an employer to do if a work-at-home employee moves farther away?

By Jeffrey R. Smith

Allowing employees to work from home is becoming more popular as technology improves, making it easier for an employee to link up with the employer and stay in touch from home.

Combined with an increased emphasis on the importance of work-life balance and other initiatives like flex time, more employees are setting up home offices to do their jobs in the comfort of their own homes.

However, things can get interesting if the employee wants to move. If the move is in the same area, it’s not going to be a problem. But what if the employee wants to move farther away? The employee may have to give the employer notice and give the employer an opportunity to evaluate the employment of the employee.

About four years ago, a vice-president of operations for a digital music company decided to move to Mexico from his home in Alberta. The company was based in Vancouver but allowed the employee to work from home when he was hired so he wouldn’t have to uproot his family. However, the company indicated it might ask him to move to Vancouver at some point.

The employee set up his Internet and telephone at his Mexican residence, made sure he could do his work there, and then told the employer he had moved. The employer wasn’t happy. Despite the employee’s assurances it wasn’t a big deal, it had concerns about things like taxes and work visas. The employer felt the employee hadn’t been up front about the move and didn’t want such a distance between the employee and the office, so it fired him.

The circumstances described above are an extreme situation where the employee moved thousands of kilometers to another country without informing the employer, but what would the employer’s rights be if the employee moved to another province? How far should an employee be able to move without running it by the employer? Should the employer be entitled to approve any kind of significant move by a work-from-home employee? And, would an employee moving a certain distance away from the employer without advance notice be just cause for dismissal?

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective. He can be reached at jeffrey.r.smith@thomsonreuters.com. For more information, visit www.employmentlawtoday.com.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Jeffrey R. Smith

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective.
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