Canada: How to Manage and Support a Remote Workforce

?After becoming widespread due to the COVID-19 pandemic, remote-work arrangements are here to stay in Canada, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based employment lawyer told attendees at a recent conference in Vancouver.

“Now that we’re entering a post-pandemic phase, some workplace trends are sticking around. Working from home and hybrid arrangements remain, while many employees are still resisting a regimented return to the office,” Cameron Wardell, an attorney with Mathews, Dinsdale and Clark, said at the 2023 HR Conference and Expo held by the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources of British Columbia and Yukon.

In a 2021 study by Statistics Canada, 90 percent of respondents said they feel they are as productive—or even more productive—while working from home. Employees in Canada have said working from home has increased their work/life flexibility due to the lack of commute time, higher job satisfaction, more quality time with their families and a reduced need for day care.

Employees in Canada generally do not have a legal right to work from home or another remote location, but there are some exceptions, Wardell noted.

“If there are human rights issues—disability or family status—an employer may have an obligation to accommodate, but only to the point of undue hardship,” he explained. Still, employers should “approach a remote or hybrid office proposal with a flexible mind.”

Canadian Federal Workers Strike for Wages, Remote Work

More than 155,000 federal government workers in Canada went on strike for over two weeks this spring for higher wages, with a request for remote-work arrangements as one of the main negotiating points.

According to the Public Service Alliance of Canada union, the country’s government has agreed to review remote work on a case-by-case basis, as well as revise its Directive on Telework.

Currently, the Canadian government has a hybrid-work policy that allows employees to work from home for up to three days a week, Treasury Board President Mona Fortier said in a statement.

The changes could also be good news for nongovernment employees, since advances made by public-sector employees eventually trickle down to the private sector, Jean-Nicolas Reyt, an associate professor at McGill University in Montreal, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Occupational Health and Safety at a Home Office

According to WorkSafeBC, British Columbia’s workers’ compensation insurer, employers in the province should have a work-from-home and safety policy in place. This policy should require workers to assess their workspace and report any potential hazards to their manager, Wardell said.

The policy should include:

  • Protocols for evacuating from the worker’s home to a safe location in case of an emergency.
  • Safe work practices to report work-related incidents or injuries.
  • Communication procedures for checking in on employees working alone or in isolation.
  • Ergonomic considerations for home office equipment.

Protecting Sensitive Employer Information

Remote offices and home environments also present employers with major security challenges, such as how to protect sensitive information, ensure data security and privacy, and shred printed documents securely, Wardell said.

He recommended that companies take a twofold approach to protect confidential information. Employers should draft a contract that requires employees to take reasonable steps to protect company documents, while also creating flexible, specific policies on how to manage company-issued equipment and how that equipment can be used by employees.

“The contract is the backbone of the employer’s stance, while policies can be changed and revised,” Wardell noted.

Catherine Skrzypinski is a freelance writer in Vancouver, B.C.

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