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Questions of employment law are often very fact-specific, and the law can vary from province to province. If you have a question about your rights when it comes to working remotely or other employment issues, it is important to speak with a lawyer who practices in the province where you live. The following is not legal advice, and does not take the place of consulting a lawyer.

More and more, working remotely is becoming part of our lives. Many businesses want to encourage their employees to work remotely, cutting down the number of physical offices on the premises that are needed, and many employees like the idea of saving their commute time and having more flexibility in their day. But remote work comes with some considerations that we should all be aware of.

A right to work remotely

Unless it is specifically written in your contract, you don’t have the right to work remotely.  Instead, companies will have varying policies about remote work, and these will often affect employees differently.  For example, some roles may be more conducive to working from home than others.  Employers might also require that you spend a certain period of time working from the office before you can have a discussion about working remotely. If a flexible work arrangement is something you really want, make sure you find out what your employer’s policies are and how they will affect you.

Flexibility

One issue that comes up when employees work from home is how much flexibility they can expect to have in their day. For example, can you start and end an hour early? Can you work overtime if you choose?  These questions can only be answered by your employer based on the type of arrangement they are willing to give you. As a general rule, when working remotely you should expect to work as if you were in your office; you should keep the same hours, be equally available, and have the same rules apply to you.  Some employers will be willing to give you more flexibility, but mostly it’s up to them.

Working remotely for health reasons

If you have a disability and need to be accommodated, the case is a little bit different. This becomes a human rights issue and is dealt with province by province. Generally, if you have a disability, you have the right to be accommodated so that you can continue working in your job. But the right to accommodation is not absolute; employers do not have to go to the point of undue hardship, meaning that if your accommodation would cost them too much money, for example, or pose a health and safety risk to other employees, the accommodation will not be required. Some jobs will be better-suited to different types of accommodations than others. If you need a change to your work schedule or environment due to a disability, it is important to consult a lawyer.

Privacy rights

One of the major issues that has come up recently when people work from home relates to privacy. On one side, employees want to know if their employers have the right to search a personal computer, for example, that is being used to work from home. On the other side, employers want to be sure that their privacy is being protected from things like hacking and over-the-shoulder reading.

When it comes to bringing your own device to your work, such as a laptop, phone or tablet, you can generally expect some degree of privacy from your employer. However, they may be able to search things like your work email. So if you use this for both work and personal use, be aware that it may not be private. Also, some employers will have a remote work policy that will have stricter requirements with respect to your own devices. These policies may give them the right to do more extensive surveillance, and you may have to agree to the policies if you want to be able to work remotely. You should always consider the implications of using your own devices for work in light of your work’s privacy policies.

Confidentiality issues

Also included in many remote work policies are rules about Wi-Fi and taking care of confidential information. If you access an open Wi-Fi network, at a coffee shop for example, you are taking the risk that someone will gain access to the work you are doing.  Many employers will specifically prohibit you from joining an open Wi-Fi network while working. Many policies will also address confidentiality. If you take physical documents from your office to work on remotely, you will often have an obligation to keep these secure and out of the hands of others. Remote work policies will also often require you to keep your computer screen and documents from the wandering eyes of other people who may be around you. These so-called “shoulder surfer” policies require you to be careful, and breaching this policy could land you in trouble.

Remote work can be very beneficial to both employees and employers.  It cuts down on commute time and can make you work more efficiently, and can also reduce the physical footprint needed by your employer to run their business. But it is important to be aware of your work’s policies on remote work when you agree to them, since they will determine how the arrangement will work and what types of things can get you in trouble.