As restrictions related to COVID-19 continue to ease in British Columbia and employers are given the green light to return employees to the workplace, the ability to continue working remotely is top of mind for employers and employees alike. For those employers that wish to maintain some level of remote working, now is the time to begin developing a clear and comprehensive long-term remote work policy. While non-exhaustive, the following may serve as a starting point in terms of what to include:
- Eligibility: a remote work policy should frame remote work as a privilege and include clear eligibility requirements and an approval process that retains employer discretion. Consider whether certain positions will be ineligible due to unsuitability.
- Full-Time vs. Hybrid: as the ability to return to the office increases, employers ought to consider whether full-time remote work versus a hybrid model requiring minimum in-office attendance is better suited to their workplace.
- Duration: a policy should include how and when remote work may cease, including at the employer’s discretion. Consider whether the policy will be re-evaluated after a specific length of time, such as one year.
- Location: an employee’s physical location while performing work may impact applicable employment standards, tax, as well as insurance premiums and coverage. Employers may wish to require employees to obtain pre-approval for remote work locations and should exercise caution in allowing employees to work remotely across provincial or other borders.
- Hours of Work and Availability: clear expectations around hours of work and means by which employees must be available (phone, email, etc.) ought to be included, while being mindful of the minimum standards related to hours of work, overtime, and breaks contained in the British Columbia Employment Standards Act (ESA).
- Expenses: guidelines addressing expense reimbursement for equipment or services necessary for remote working, including requiring pre-approval, are a key component of a remote work policy. Employers ought to take note of the ESA prohibition on requiring employees to fund business costs.
- Confidentiality: required levels of confidentiality and expectations around conduct in shared spaces (including taking calls, printing documents) should be clearly set out.
- Health and Safety: a remote work policy should ensure health and safety obligations will be met through requiring remote work locations to meet safety minimums, allowing for inspection of remote work locations, and by contemplating common remote work issues, such as working in isolation and ergonomics.
- Human Rights: employers would be wise to include the ability to grant exceptions, particularly in cases engaging human rights concerns where accommodation obligations may arise. If applicable, the policy may refer employees to the employer’s general accommodation request process.
- Policy Violations: as always, consequences of violating the policy should be clearly stated and may include the loss of remote working privileges or other discipline, up to and including termination.
While many are eager to maintain the flexibility of remote work, it does not come without complexities. For employers developing long-term remote working policies, we recommend working with counsel to ensure the unique employment context of the business is adequately addressed.