The virtual office: Working from home considerations
With the advancement of technology, employers looking to cut overhead costs, and family and lifestyle accommodations growing, working from home is becoming more and more common. However, there are some considerations that must be explored before such practices are approved.
If employers are considering engaging in a telecommuting arrangement, a clear policy should set out the expectations of the employer in terms of:
- hours of work per day or week
- how to monitor work product and deadlines
- any obligations to attend meetings at the employer’s premises
- whether the arrangement is temporary, permanent and whether there is an option to relocate the employee back to the employer’s premises
- where the office space is located within the home
- measures to ensure the preservation of confidential information
- whether appropriate home office insurance is in place and by whom
- liability issues
Insurance, WSIB and OHSA
The alternate work site (i.e. the employee’s home) should be adequately insured. Most general liability insurance policies will cover telecommuting, but employers should consult their insurers to be certain. Additionally, employees should consult their home insurance policy.
The Workplace Safety and Insurance Act applies and covers employees who are involved in a telecommuting arrangement. Employers are still required in a telecommuting scenario to take every reasonable precaution to protect workers. As a result, the employer should satisfy itself that the proposed work space is adequate, safe and conducive to productive work. Hazards with telecommuting tend to be related to adequate and safe office space and the ergonomics related to computer use. The Ministry of Labour has issued a guideline that is useful for ergonomics, titled Computer Ergonomics: Workstation Layout and Lighting | Health and Safety Guidelines.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act also applies to telecommuting arrangements. However, an inspector does not have the right to inspect a private residence. Having said that, an agreement in advance between the employer and employee allowing a representative of the Joint Health and Safety Committee is recommended.
If an accident or injury arises during the course of a telecommuting employee’s employment, it must be reported to the proper authorities, just like any accident in the workplace. Accident and injury investigations must follow the normal procedures.
Office and equipment
The office space within the employee’s premises should be understood and work limited to that area. This assists the employer with understanding the area that it has responsibility for and helps set boundaries for when an employee is expected to work. Further, keeping confidential information secure is easier when the work is limited to a specific area in the home. Best practices include a space that can be locked, devices that require a password to access them, keeping computers locked and logging out of programs to prevent access by a third party, and the ability to secure confidential paper information in a filing cabinet, locked drawer, etc.
It should be clear who owns the equipment being used in the employee’s residence and in addition, who is responsible for maintenance and the cost of maintenance of the equipment and the return of that property at the end of the relationship.
Policies should also cover who has rights over the information contained on the computer equipment if, for example, it is the employee’s computer. Software license agreements should also be given consideration.
Many employers are finding that they need to adapt to changing times, but proper forethought and planning will help offset any unexpected liabilities that may arise with these arrangements.
By: Jennifer Costin, Siskinds LLP
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