Due to COVID-19, many employers have been thrown head-first into working-from-home (WFM) arrangements for some, if not all, of their workforce. It is important that employers ensure they are meeting their obligations in these circumstances, including occupational health & safety (OHS) responsibilities and business cost reimbursement, in order to avoid liability.
Health & Safety
In WFH arrangements, the employee’s home workspace becomes an extension of the workplace and is subject to OHS legislation. An employer cannot delegate its obligation to provide a safe working environment to its employees. If an employee is injured while working at home, then the employer may be held accountable regardless of what the employee has represented about their workspace.
While ideally employers would conduct home safety inspections, alternatives include requiring employees to fill out a hazard assessment checklist and/or conducting an inspection via video conferencing.
An important part of the inspection process is for employers to assess and mitigate risks of musculoskeletal injuries (typically caused by ill-fitted equipment or harmful posture). While mitigation does not mean that employers are required to purchase office equipment for each employee to use at home, employers should provide practical tips on how to set up ergonomic work stations to prevent injuries. However, any employee requests for specialized equipment should be considered by employers on a case-by-case basis as a refusal could potentially result in OHS or human rights issues.
Further, employers are required to have a check-in system for employees who are working alone. Employers must regularly check-in with employees during their shift, including at the end of each shift, and record the results of these check-ins. Employers must also implement a procedure in the event the employee cannot be contacted, including a procedure for handling an emergency situation.
Under BC’s employment standards legislation, employers must not require an employee to pay for business costs. An employee may incur expenses as a result of WFH that they would not have normally incurred in connection with their home – for example, costs of long distance calls, software, or additional internet usage. These are likely business costs which must be borne by the employer to the extent related to employment use. However, a portion of an employee’s rent would not be considered a business cost under most circumstances.
Employers should be cautious about what employees are expected to pay for while working from home, and should consider reimbursement requests received on a case-by-case basis.
WFH arrangements can create additional complications as the employer has far less control over the workplace. Employers whose employees are working from home should consider:
- Implementing a basic policy for WFH arrangements dealing with health and safety, equipment, and business expenses;
- Ensuring employees are aware of how they can report work-related injuries;
- Having employees conduct a risk assessment of their workspace and report any hazards;
- Providing ergonomic tips for home work stations;
- Checking in with employees in accordance with OHS guidelines; and
- Ensuring employees are aware of expense reimbursement policies and procedures.
For further information, please see the following WorkSafeBC resources: