The Rise of Telecommuting

Do you have employees that work from home? Well, if you do you are among the 20% of employers in Ontario who offer telecommuting to their employees.  “Telecommuting,” or working remotely, has never been more popular.

While telecommuting has the potential of saving employers’ money and can make for happier employees, employers still have to be mindful of their obligations under the Ontario Health and Safety Act.

According to this Act, employers are “required to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.” While in the traditional workplace it seems pretty obvious what this means, such as making sure the office or worksite is safe for employees to work in, what does it mean exactly when employees are working from home?

The problem as of right now is that the Act is not clear when it comes to telecommuters. The law is not entirely settled as to how far an employer’s responsibilities extend when employees work remotely. So, what can you as employers do about your employees that work remotely until the law becomes clearer? Think about developing policies for your telecommuters that ensure their remote stations are suitable from an occupational health and safety standpoint.

For your work-from-home policy think about what right you would have to investigate and injury or incident that occurs at your employees’ home or remote workstation. You may also want to consider whether you want to have specific requirements for employees working from home. If your policy is silent on a location for working remotely, you may be unintentionally granting your employees the option of working from locations that you have not contemplated or would not approve of. Remember the telecommuting policy you develop should be reasonable and implemented with fair notice to your employees.

The number of people working from home has grown over recent years, however the laws have not developed as quickly to cover remote employment. Don’t wait for the law to catch up with the times, be proactive!

Robin K. Mann, Associate Lawyer