Working From Home: Privilege or a Right?

When the provincial shut down was announced in March, in an unprecedented act, our fearless leader Inga announced we would be shutting down our physical office indefinitely and working from home. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? Not having to get dressed in the morning (well professionally dressed, anyway). Not having to drive all the way in to work. No rush hour. #Blessed. 

Well, my commute to work is a 6-minute drive, and I like getting dressed up for work. In fact, I’m the firm oddball that actually dreaded the thought of working from home. I liked having easy access to physical files I was working on, as well as the use of all office equipment for all my scanning, printing, and collating needs. 

However, once I got all set up by our excellent I.T. team, I actually enjoyed working in my pajamas from the comfort of my own home. 

Now that Toronto has entered phase 3, we are all back working in the physical office 2 to 3 times per week.  Now I get to enjoy the best of both my professional worlds.

While Andriessen & Associate’s transition back into the physical office was smooth, some workplaces may not be so lucky. After having worked remotely for so long, some employers may be experiencing resistance from employees when it comes to returning to the physical workplace.

If an employee is refusing to return to work for safety reasons, these concerns should be addressed by the employer. If you are an avid reader of our humble blog, you will know we addressed this topic in a previous post.  Today we look at employee’s refusing to return for purely convenience-based reasons, as well as alleged childcare/eldercare obligations.

First, I’ll direct you back to the question posed in this post’s title above. If you haven’t figured it out yet, working from home is a PRIVILEGE – not a right! You can force your employees to return to the physical workplace if you have taken the necessary safety precautions. While an employee may prefer to work from the comforts of home, you do not need to accommodate requests to work from home out of sheer employee preference. 

However, if an employee says that they must work from home due to childcare/elder care obligations, employers need to be careful to ensure that they are not violating the employee’s human rights.  If the employee has a legal obligation to take care of children or elders they may be able to make claim for “family status” accommodation. This means the employer is required to reasonably accommodate the employee, or face paying damages to the employee for violating their human rights.     

Don’t worry, not all employee requests to work from home due to childcare/eldercare obligations will rise to a level requiring accommodation. This is a lawyer question, so ask a lawyer!

If you are facing a situation with an employee refusing to return to work, you should reach out to us. We transitioned back seamlessly; we can help you do the same.

Robin K. Mann, JD