Most employers and employees in British Columbia will likely accept that business activities have undergone permanent changes due to COVID-19. Establishing protocols for employees to return to the offices after months of remote working could be challenging. Many employees might feel everything has finally fallen in place in managing households and offices from home. Can they be forced to come back to their offices? How should employers deal with those who prefer working from home?
When some employees show reluctance to return to the office environment, management should consider the following:
- How important is it to get employees back?
- Can the particular task be done better in the office than at a remote location?
- Does the employee have valid reasons for wanting to work from home?
- Is the employee or another household member’s immune system compromised?
- If schools are still closed, does the employee have young children at home?
Employees whose presence is essential in the business premises
Many workplaces, no matter how flexible, may require at least one employee at the office, for example, having a receptionist in the front office once the business reopens. When dealing with essential employees, management will have to consider any reasonable concerns the employees may have about health risks.
Protections can be implemented by the employer to ensure a safe working environment and address an employee’s reasonable concerns, such as a plexiglass screen to maintain safe distancing. Furthermore, rules to put in place could include mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing, keeping the lunchroom closed, etc.
If a business requires only some staff members to work in the office, unoccupied offices could be allocated to allow each employee to work in a separate office. These and many more challenges will be faced by business owners in British Columbia. Throughout the process, protecting the health of employees will be the primary concern. Considering accommodation for the personal circumstances of each individual staff member is crucial to avoid human rights issues.