An Ottawa employment lawyer answers the most common questions about going back to the office.
The time has finally come; after nearly two years of lockdowns and remote working, many people are getting called back into the office, if they haven’t already returned. Since Ontario started lifting COVID-19 mandates and eliminated mask requirements, Ottawa employment lawyers have gotten a lot of inquiries about employment rights and going back to work. We answer the most common questions we get about returning to the office in a post-COVID world.
Do I have a right to decline a request to return to the office?
This is the most common question that Ottawa employment lawyers have gotten throughout the pandemic. The answer is no; you don’t have the right to refuse to return to work and expect to keep your job. If an employer asks you to return to the office in most scenarios and cases, you have to comply. Remote working was implemented as a temporary measure to comply with mandatory public health restrictions and guidelines for most workplaces. Now that those mandates are lifted, an employer has every right to resume business as usual in the office. Failure to comply with a request to return to work could be considered insubordination and result in disciplinary action or dismissal.
What if I feel unsafe returning to work?
It’s entirely understandable for you to be anxious about returning to work and worried about your health and safety in the workplace. Unfortunately, now that most public health officials have spoken about how it’s generally safe to return to regular life, it could be tough to justify feeling unsafe. As an employee, you always have the right to refuse hazardous work. If your employer is not following mandatory health and safety guidelines, there are instances where you can refuse to work. However, to do so, you’d have to be physically present, and there are steps and processes you must follow. It’s not as straightforward as calling your employer and telling them you’re not coming into the office because you feel unsafe.
What about people who are immune-compromised or disabled? This is another common question that Ottawa employment lawyers get. Your employer has a duty to accommodate disabled employees as much as justifiably possible. Therefore, if you have a doctor’s note or documentation stating that it is unsafe for you to return to work, your employer may be able to accommodate you by allowing you to work from home.
What is a ‘hybrid model’ work environment?
Some employers are offering a hybrid model in workplaces. Many companies, businesses, and employees realized that it’s possible – and sometimes more practical – to do their job from home effectively. A hybrid work environment is when your employer may only ask that you’re physically present in the office a couple of days of the week. You may work from home the rest of the days that you’re not in the office. This can be a great alternative, and it can be possible to negotiate this with your employer.
As an employee, do I have any negotiating power?
Suppose you are vehemently opposed to returning to the office. In that case, you may be able to negotiate a hybrid model or permanent work-from-home arrangement. In industries where employers are hard-pressed to attract and retain employees, you may have significantly more bargaining power. Now that Canadians have realized how easy and effective it is to work from home, a large demographic is choosing to leave their current job and pursue remote opportunities instead. It’s worth talking to your employer to see if they’re willing to be flexible. However, if your employer is still firm on returning to the office full-time, you would have to comply.
If you are negotiating with your employer, it’s essential to have any changes to your employment in writing and signed by both parties. If your employer offers to change your employment contract, it’s a good idea to contact an Ottawa employment lawyer. They will look at it and ensure you’re getting precisely what you negotiated before you sign the document. Employment contracts are legally binding for all parties that sign, so it’s crucial that you read your new contract thoroughly and understand what you’re signing.
Can my employer reduce my pay if I choose an option to work remotely?
The exact answer to this can depend on your specific circumstances. However, most Ottawa employment lawyers will argue that an employer cannot reduce your pay if they allow you to work from home. It could be considered a constructive dismissal or breach of contract if your employer cuts your income. In most cases, if your employer does try to cut your pay and breach your contract, you could reject the change. You are putting your employer in a position where they’ll have to return your salary to the regular rate or pay you severance instead.
Can my employer require me to wear a mask even though mandates are lifted?
In Ontario, mask mandates are currently (April 2022) no longer in place. You are not legally required to wear a mask in the workplace. However, public health officials still encourage high-risk individuals to wear masks and ask that the public remain respectful. Many employers have asked their employees to continue wearing masks even after mandates lifted. While the risk of contracting COVID-19 is still high, it’s reasonable for your employer to ask this of you. If your workplace has stated that masks are required, then you must comply.
Have more questions about your employee rights? Contact an Ottawa employment lawyer today.
Knowing and understanding your rights in the workplace is crucial. Employment laws can be confusing, and it can be intimidating to approach your employer about conflicts in the workplace. If you feel as though your rights have been violated or if you’re unable to resolve work-related issues with your employer, consult an Ottawa employment lawyer. Your lawyer will look at all of the facts surrounding your unique situation and can advise you on the best course of action. They can explain your rights and your employers’ rights in a way that makes sense. There is no cost and no obligation to schedule a consultation with our lawyers.