Considering Ontario’s ongoing shutdowns of non-essential businesses and the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, working from home has become common across the province and beyond. Work from home has taken off in many businesses that have never attempted to implement a work from home policy previously. As such, many businesses run the risk of opening themselves up to liability or harming their operations if they aren’t implementing work from home in a safe and proper way.
What are the benefits of a work from home policy?
There are a number of benefits to creating clear and concise work from home policies for your business. Firstly, it assists employees in understanding the expectations placed in them while they perform their work remotely, or are working from home. In such an environment, it is all too easy for an employee to become distracted without the employer even being aware. Those distractions can then lead to lower productivity or continuing performance issues. If the employee is aware that excessive distractions are in breach of workplace policies, they will endeavour to minimize them and focus on completing their work during working hours. Expectations surrounding a work environment can also be set to prevent employees from treating work like a small vacation, such as working from the beach, where there may be numerous distractions or the appearance of being unprofessional.
Additionally, the work from home environment may contain new challenges not previously considered by the employee, such as using differing forms of communication and changes to the regular method of performing work duties. Clear work from home policies can help the employee understand the proper procedure for handling these new challenges and avoid confusion or lower performance due to misunderstandings.
Existing policies can also be updated for the work from home model, to ensure the workplace can carry on with minimal disruption, such as ensuring there is a means for employees to report complaints while working from home, while previously they may have been expected to meet with an individual in person. Clear and concise work from home policies can provide management an easy means to enforce standards and expectations, where employees aren’t able to rely on lack of knowledge or information pertaining to work from home expectations.
What are the risks of not having a work from home policy?
If an employer does not have a clear work from home policy, it can be very difficult to enforce certain workplace standards for employees. Employees will have easy means to dispute disciplinary action on the basis that they did not understand they were violating any policies. Continuing to maintain any disciplinary action at this point may cause the employee to become dissatisfied and affect further work performance moving forward.
Employees could also argue that the employer is discriminating against them for the enforcement of verbal policies, as the employer will have a much more difficult time setting out that these policies apply to everyone equally. An allegation of discrimination in this manner could open up the employer to significant damages at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
Employers who do not currently have a work from home policy, or believe their work from home policy is outdated, should seek the assistance of an employment lawyer to not only ensure that they are limiting their liability, but also to communicate important working procedures and expectations to ensure a high performing workforce.
Blogging for Achkar law is Christopher Achkar, founder and principal of Achkar Law. Since being called to the bar in 2016, Christopher works with employers regarding all their HR Law needs at multiple levels of court, including tribunals such as the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Ontario Labour Relations Board, and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.