For many BC workers, and workers around the world, COVID-19 brought about many changes, including how you work.
Nearly everyone had to adjust to this new normal and that meant that more and more individuals were required to work from home, or work “remotely”.
What’s more, is that many employees have taken this opportunity to work from locations outside of British Columbia instead of working from their own residences.
So, what are the implications for employment law in BC?
Simply put, having employees work remotely does not change your employer’s fundamental obligations. This means management must comply with BC’s employment standards in the same way they would if you were working from the office.
Here is what you need to know.
Workplace Health and Safety
An employer’s duty to maintain a safe working environment does not cease to exist just because their employees are now working from home.
It is your right, as the employee, to have access to the same health and safety protocols that you would have had whilst working in the office.
For example, your company’s policies should be updated to accommodate the “new normal.” This means that your policies should reflect:
- how to go about reporting workplace injuries;
- safe working procedures; and
- what check-in procedures are available – especially if you are working alone or in isolation.
WorkSafe BC has published a few guidelines that your employers can use to adapt your workplace health and safety policies to accommodate you working from home.
Remote Working Office Expenses
Under the BC Employment Standards Act, employers are prohibited from expecting their employees to incur any business expenses.
Therefore, a common question that has arisen since COVID-19 saw many employees working from home, is whether the employer has the responsibility to reimburse employees for the cost of their personal internet or rent.
In order to avoid a dispute around these expenses, it is important that employers update their policies to provide a clear understanding of what remote work entails.
For example, the employer may want to consider allocating a “remote working” allowance which the employer can use to cover the costs of extra electricity being used and the expense of operating their own tools and devices.
Alternatively, you, as the employee, should seek advice from your accountants on how to go about claiming your home office expenses as a tax deduction.
Workplace Bullying and Harassment
As with health and safety obligations, the employer still has a duty to ensure that employees are not being harassed, bullied or discriminated against.
While you may not be in the office, bullying and harassment can still occur virtually.
No employer or employee is entitled to treat a fellow employee differently as a result of a protected personal characteristic whether in person or online.
As a result, it is the employer’s duty to ensure that relevant policies are updated to include inappropriate virtual conduct that results in discrimination or harassment, as prohibited conduct.
Employers will also need to adapt their process for complaints and investigations to accommodate you, as the employee, who is working remotely.
Should you be experiencing any kind of online bullying or harassment, be sure to report it to your manager as soon as possible so that it can be adequately resolved. If you feel as if the policies have not been sufficiently updated to accommodate your claims of online bullying and harassment, you may want to consider seeking the advice of an employment lawyer.
If your company has decided to adopt remote working on a more permanent basis, it is important to adapt all current workplace policies to accommodate these changes.
It’s your employer’s responsibility to continue observing your workplace rights. As a result, they’ll need to make sure that:
- their health and safety regulations are accounted for;
- the bullying and harassment policies include virtual conduct; and
- you, as the employee, don’t incur any business expenses as a result of working remotely.
In addition, it’s entirely necessary to implement a whole new policy that addresses remote working generally. The policy should cover the definition of what working remotely entails, overtime processes and, among many other things, emergency operations.
If you believe that your employer may not be observing your rights and has not developed legally sound policies to accommodate you, now that you are working remotely, you might want to seek some legal advice.
Should you require any assistance from our employment lawyers, please consider speaking to Zoe about your legal options.