The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many employees to transition to remote work, leaving many offices empty for long periods. As vaccination rates increase and restrictions ease, employers may consider returning their staff to the office.
But can your boss force you to return to the workplace after working remotely? The answer isn’t a simple yes or no, as it largely depends on your individual circumstances and the laws in your province or territory.
This article will explore the legal grounds for returning to the office and what employees should know about their rights.
Employment Contracts and Remote Work
One of the key factors in determining whether your employer can mandate a return to the office is the language in your employment contract. If your contract explicitly states that your position is office-based and remote work was only implemented temporarily due to the pandemic. In that case, your employer may have grounds to require you to come back to the office.
On the other hand, if your contract is silent on the issue of remote work or if it specifically provides for the possibility of remote work, you may have more leverage in negotiating a flexible work arrangement. It’s essential to carefully review your employment contract and consult a labour attorney to clarify your rights.
Human Rights and Workplace Accommodations
Another important aspect is whether you have a valid reason to continue working remotely based on human rights law. The Canadian Human Rights Act protects individuals from discrimination based on a protected ground, such as disability, race, or family status.
Moreover, if you have a medical condition that puts you at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 or if you have caregiving responsibilities for a vulnerable family member, you may be entitled to request a workplace accommodation in the form of continued remote work.
In such cases, your employer is legally required to engage in the process of accommodation, which means they must consider your request and work with you to find a solution that meets both your needs and the employer’s operational requirements.
It’s crucial to remember that the duty to accommodate is not absolute. Employers must only provide accommodations up to undue hardship, which can be a high threshold.
Health and Safety Regulations
Employers in Canada have a legal obligation to ensure a safe work environment for their employees. If you have concerns about your workplace’s health and safety measures, you may have grounds to refuse to return to the office.
In this situation, you should communicate your concerns to your employer and request that they address any deficiencies in their COVID-19 safety protocols.
If your employer fails to take appropriate action to ensure a safe workplace, you can file a complaint with your provincial or territorial occupational health and safety regulator.
It’s important to understand that refusing to return to work based on health and safety concerns can be complex. You should consult an attorney or union representative if considering this course of action.
Whether your boss can force you to return to the office after working remotely depends on your circumstances, employment contract, and applicable laws in your province or territory. As an employee, it’s essential to know your rights and to communicate openly with your employer about your concerns and needs.
If you need clarification on your rights or assistance navigating the return to the office, consult with a labour attorney or contact your local employment law organizations for guidance.
In addition, open communication and a clear understanding of your rights and obligations can help ensure a smooth transition back to the office. Or continued remote work that meets your and your employer’s needs.
At Pathfinder Law, we offer a range of different legal services, including family law, employment law, business law services, and more. Our services are available to clients living and working throughout Abbotsford and the rest of British Columbia. If you’re looking for an employment lawyer in Abbotsford, we can help you. Contact us today.
Disclaimer – The information contained herein is of a general nature. It is not intended to be legal advice and it is not intended to address the exact circumstances of any particular individual or entity. You should not rely on or act upon such information without receiving appropriate professional advice and without a thorough examination of your particular situation.