Hybrid workplaces in British Columbia have given rise to many unanticipated questions for employers and employees. The answers to those questions often depend on the policies established by the employer at the beginning of the pandemic. Did the work-at-home policies make it clear that the work-from-home terms would be applicable only for the duration of the pandemic?
Employee prefers to work from home
Establishing an office at home was a significant adjustment for many workers, affecting their families and lifestyles. Employees may feel that they have only recently become accustomed to working from home and feel frustration that their employers wish to call them back to their on-site workplaces. If employees want to continue working from home, claiming that working from home has become a term of their employment, should the employer consider their request or insist they return?
Where there is a strong work-from-home policy that was drafted at the outset of the pandemic, this is may not be a reasonable position. However, there may be situations where an employee worked off-site before the pandemic where the ability to work from home may be part of their terms and conditions of employment. The specific contractual terms will be central to this analysis, including whether the contract of employment included any terms that an employee’s ability to work from home is subject to change.
Pandemic-related request for accommodation
However, how should an employer deal with an employee who seeks accommodation for their need to work from home? These more serious requests may have arisen during the pandemic due to changed circumstances related to a child’s health, to provide eldercare to a parent, or any other basis that may relate to a protected ground under the BC Human Rights Code. Such a request must be seriously considered by the employer to meet their obligations. Any such accommodation request should be reviewed by the employer both substantively and procedurally.
These and more hybrid workplace uncertainties are just some of the factors that could significantly affect British Columbia companies’ bottom line. To avoid costly employment-related lawsuits, we strongly recommend contacting an employment lawyer to provide advice and recommendations on how to avoid obstacles in returning to work.