Being Asked to Return to the Office? Here’s What to Expect…

Return to Work

By Sara Kauder

With the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, many Ontarians are now being asked to return to work onsite after working from home for more than two years. For some employees, this will be a welcome change. For others, being asked to return to in-person work may be a source of stress.

In this blog, we tackle some of the questions and concerns that employees may be facing.

Return to Work

Some employees may wonder if their employers can ask them to return to work after working from home for such an extended period of time. If an employee was previously required to work onsite, they will likely need to return to in-person work if requested, subject to an employee’s right to be accommodated pursuant to human rights legislation.

The Ontario Human Rights Code and the federal Canadian Human Rights Act obligate employers to accommodate employees to the point of undue hardship based on certain protected grounds, including disability, sex (including pregnancy) and childcare obligations. If an employee is unable to return to work onsite full time for reasons related to one of the protected grounds, the employee should request accommodation from their employer. Accommodation may include the employee being able to continue to work remotely full time on a permanent or temporary basis, a hybrid working arrangement, changed or reduced hours of work, etc. It is important to keep in mind that accommodation by an employer must be “reasonable” in all of the circumstances and does not have to be exactly what the employee has requested to be in compliance with human rights legislation.

When there is not a valid need for accommodation, if an employee refuses or fails to return to work when requested, and the employer has not agreed to an alternative working arrangement, the employee may be viewed as having resigned or abandoned their employment.

If returning to work on-site on a full-time basis, all company equipment and confidential information that was provided to the employee to enable them to work remotely should be returned to the workplace. In this circumstance, it is important for employees to ensure that no confidential information belonging to the employer remains on any of the employee’s personal devices (although such confidential information really should not have been placed on the employee’s personal devices in the first place!). However, it is critical that the company’s confidential information is not deleted or destroyed before it is returned to the company.

Employees have a right to be safe and feel safe in the workplace. Pursuant to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers are obligated to “take every reasonable precaution in the circumstances for the protection of a worker”. While several significant COVID-19 measures have been lifted for most workplaces, there are still a high number of people who are testing positive for this disease on a daily basis. Given this reality, some employees may be worried about returning to in-person work. If an employee is concerned about their health and safety by being asked to return to work onsite, they should discuss these concerns with their employer to see what protocols are in place.

Stay tuned for our companion blog, coming soon, about what employers must consider in reopening the workplace for employees.

How Minken Employment Lawyers Can Help

If you require legal advice with respect to circumstances surrounding your return to work, please contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced employment lawyers or call us at 905-477-7011.

For regular updates and alerts please sign up for our Newsletter to receive up-to-date Employment Law information, including new legislation and Court decisions impacting your workplace.

Please note that this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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