Job, sweet job

Working from home more common – but it brings its share of liability risks

By Jeffrey R. Smith

Home is where the heart is. And, increasingly, where the job is.

Employers are placing more emphasis on things that can help employees balance their work and home life as a means of attracting and retaining talent and dealing with changing employment law issues — such as accommodation of family status.

With the increase in technological capability, flex time and working from home are two of the more popular practices companies are using to meet these new demands.

Allowing an employee to work from home can be a good way to address the demands an employee faces in her personal life, as well as help with other concerns such as reducing traffic and helping the environment. And a happier employee could be a benefit as well. But there are liability issues that employers have to keep in mind.

Health and safety

A big concern when an employee is working from a home office is health and safety. An employee ultimately has control over the safety of her home, but when she’s performing work, she’s on the clock and the employer may have some liability, especially if working with company equipment such as a computer.

For example, if there’s an electrical problem with equipment that injures an employee at home, is it the company’s equipment or the electrical system at the house that caused it? And who’s liable? How can the company ensure the employee’s working conditions are safe, or can it?


When an employee works from home, the employer often has little control over when the employee works. Sure, it can require the employee to call and check in, but the employer often can’t know when exactly the employee is working and when she isn’t.

However, whether the employee is working fewer hours or taking longer lunches could be less of a concern than if she’s working longer hours, which could lead to overtime claims.

An employer may have a policy requiring pre-approval for overtime, but — as some of the recent class action suits against the big banks show — if the employee works overtime regardless of approval, the employer may have to pay up. But is it possible to control the hours of a work-at-home employee?

Allowing an employee to work from home isn’t as simple as sending her on her way with a computer and some files. As with most employment circumstances, some due diligence is required. But how much can an employer’s control over the workplace really extend to a home office?

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 [email protected] or visit for more information.

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