Telecommuting and Working From Home

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telecommuting
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How to make sure your workplace keeps working when employees telecommute and work from home.

Whether in special circumstances like the 2010 Olmypics, or on a day-to-day basis, many companies have to deal with telecommuting and remote employees.

Alternate Work Schedules

Retail and Food and Beverage businesses have long been planning for extended hours and night time shipping and receiving because of the Olympics.

As these plans roll out, surprised employees often ask whether their employers can require them to work seven days a week or change their start times to much later in the evening or early in the morning. In short, the answer is “yes,” provided that the employer also complies with Part 4, Hours of Work and Overtime sections of the B.C. Employment Standards Act.

Of course, the answer can be more complicated for those employees who have been promised a fixed schedule in their employment contracts, or who are unable to accommodate such changed schedules due to family care requirements. If an employee can show that the changed schedule results in a “serious interference with a substantial parental or other family duty or obligation,” then the employee will be protected by the Human Rights Code and be able to refuse to comply with the changed schedule. For a recent decision that examined when an employee is able to seek the protection of the Human Rights Code.

Telecommuting

One alternative to dealing with the road closures and extra volume on transit routes is to work from home. For those employees and employers who are able to make this work, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Depending on the nature of the business and forms of communication that will be employed, the protection of the company's business information, confidential information and trade secrets may be a first priority. The usual firewalls, electronic back-ups, virus protections and similar protocols that are part of most business information systems may not work or be available when employees use home computer systems to create, send, or receive data. Care also needs to be taken to ensure that access that was permitted for temporary periods of working from home is later secured, and that information stored on home computers deleted when the remote access is no longer required.
  • Check whether the business’ usual insurance coverage, (including liability and workers compensation) is flexible enough to protect the business and employees for losses or injuries that are sustained while employees are working remotely.
  • Given it will be harder to supervise or provide instructions to employees working from home, employers and employees will want to be clear regarding work expectations, deliverables, and when and how employees and managers will ensure they remain available or accessible during the business day. Pre-arranged conferencing by phone or computer, and “emergency” contact information can alleviate frustration on both sides and compensate for the lack of ‘face time’ in the office.
  • Communicate (preferably in writing) about project or other work deliverables, hours of work each day, and whether or not extra hours are expected or authorized. That way, employees will be clear as to what is mandatory and where there is flexibility, and employers will not be surprised or disappointed with missed deadlines or finding that they are faced with overtime claims that were either not authorized, or which cannot be verified.

 

This blog is written by Nicole Byres of Clark Wilson LLP and made available by BCBusiness to provide general information on employment law, and is not a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Neither the reading of this blog, nor the sending of unsolicited comments or emails creates a lawyer-client relationship with the writer or Clark Wilson LLP.



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