Do you have a remote work policy?

When it comes to drafting and implementing policies, many employers are quite behind

Do you have a remote work policy?
Nadia Zaman

Remote work is the new normal for many, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, when it comes to drafting and implementing remote work policies, many organizations are quite behind.

Below is a checklist to help you implement a remote work policy.

Management rights: Establish that you have the right to impose work from home when it is necessary based on the government guidelines or business needs. In addition, you can reserve the right to insist that employees return to the workplace after a period of working from home.

IP, privacy, security: Protect your intellectual property rights and ensure that privacy and security concerns have been addressed, including specifying the remote access procedures as well as the confidentiality obligations when speaking with clients or customers while working from home where other family members might be able to overhear the conversation. You should also have policies to address confidentiality of electronic information, including basic issues such as who else will have access to equipment and accounts.

Expenses and reimbursements: Consider what equipment an employee may need to work from home and whether you will be providing it, reimbursing the employee for the cost, or whether the employee will be responsible for obtaining it.

Ensure compliance with the minimum standards: Each jurisdiction across Canada has legislation outlining the minimum standards that employers must comply with. In order to ensure compliance with the minimum standards, employers should consider how hours of work and overtime will be monitored and compensated. For instance, you can require employees to obtain your approval prior to working any overtime hours. Failing to properly monitor and compensate your employees can result in potential liability. For example, an employee who is working from home may be working overtime and the employer may, knowingly or unknowingly, fail to provide the employee with the required overtime pay under the applicable legislation.

Address human rights concerns: Employers have a duty to accommodate requests for accommodation on the basis of grounds protected by the applicable human rights legislation (for example, employers cannot deny reasonable accommodation to employees who have childcare or eldercare needs). Employers should have a separate accommodation policy and process; however, you should ensure that your Remote Work Policy and procedure meets this obligation and addresses processes for submitting work from home requests.

Address health and safety concerns: Employers are obligated to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect their workers. In the context of working from home during the pandemic, employees should not be required to physically meet with others for business reasons unless it is necessary to do so. Employers should also be mindful of unique health and safety concerns that may arise due to work from home arrangements (for example, back pain from working on a couch). Employers should require employees to immediately report any “work-related” illnesses or injuries to the employer which may occur while they are working from home.

Consequences of violating the policy: Specify the potential consequences of violating such policy while retaining the discretion to implement various forms of discipline, as appropriate.  

Communication and training: Communicate and train employees on the policy in order to ensure that it is successfully implemented.

Review existing contracts/policies: Review employment agreements, collective agreements (if applicable) and any existing policies to ensure that your ability to require employees to work from home is not unduly restricted and to ensure that the policies are practical and effective in addressing issues that can arise when remote work is either requested or required due to the circumstances. 

Draft/update: Revise and update your Remote Work Policy (if you currently have one in place) or draft and implement a new one. Seek legal advice to ensure it is carefully drafted.

As an organization, you likely faced many uncertainties in light of the pandemic. However, there are steps you can take to ensure you are not only complying with the law, but also being strategic. Having the proper policies in place is a great way to maximize your rights and minimize your liabilities. Remote work policies are no exception - especially if you have employees working from home.

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