If your employer is encouraging you to work from home when it is not legally required, you may not be as blessed as you believe.
If you believe one unanticipated benefit of the pandemic was your ability to work from home, you might reconsider.
Ever since various provincial governments passed emergency legislation in the pandemic, millions of Canadians have been forced to work from home whether they liked it or not.
This is about to change. Providing the Ontario government has a lucid moment and opens the province like the rest of the world, millions of employees will face returning to their regular workplaces.
Make no mistake; employers have the legal right to require employees to return to their offices as long as appropriate safety protocols are in place.
Having said that, many employers will still want a portion of their workforce to continue to work remotely. If – a big “if” – employees maintain the quantity and quality of their work, employers reap the benefits at reduced overhead.
There will be savings on everything, from rent, fewer office supplies to a reduced need for positions such as office managers. How many office managers do you need when the office is working remotely? Businesses will employ the “hotel” concept. There will no longer be assigned workspaces. Instead, employees who must attend the workplace for meetings will book an office space or boardroom.
However, an employer cannot force you to work at home if that was not already part of your employment agreement. To do so would be a material change in the employment contract that would constitute a constructive dismissal.
So, we have a situation where an employer can compel you to work at the office, but not from your home unless you agree.
Should an employee agree to work remotely? This is not necessarily a good idea, particularly for those who want to advance their career.
All organizations have a centre of power and it isn’t in the “cloud.” There is usually one individual who is the nominal head and those who have trusted personal relationships with that “Boss” form the centre of power. By powerful, we mean individuals with the authority and ability to influence careers. Employees want, or should want, to be one of those trusted few. These kinds of relationships are difficult if not impossible to foster online.
Being far from the centre of power can be damaging to an employee’s career. The more an employer encourages an employee to work remotely the less important that employee is seen to be, and the more difficult it will be for that employee to advance.
This is not new. As long as there has been work, being sent to the “minors” or the satellite office has been recognized as deleterious. It is no different because an employee is exiled virtually instead of physically.
After all, who is more likely to get promoted? An individual who has developed a personal relationship with their superior? Or an employee who, at best, is seen occasionally online at predetermined times.
Likewise, when it comes time to cut staff. Who is going to be retained? Employees are constantly surprised when relationships trump merit in promotion and dismissal discussions.
Jamie Dimon, the chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase agrees. He recently commented that working remotely “does not work for young people.” It doesn’t work for those who “want to hustle.” In other words, if you are working from home you are just not that important.
If you need more proof of this, we were at the tailor’s last week, in the heart of Toronto’s financial district, to purchase a couple of sport jackets. We discussed who were buying clothes to return to the office and his response was all the “high ups” or “important” people were anxious to get back to their office. He obviously felt those who were not anxious to get back to their offices were not “high up” or “important.”
If your employer is encouraging you to work from home when it is not legally required you may not be as blessed as you believe. So, to all the WFH fans, be careful what you ask for.
By Howard Levitt and Peter Carey. PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO. Article originally appeared in the Financial Post: https://financialpost.com/fp-work/howard-levitt-the-boss-is-going-back-to-the-office-and-you-should-too?video_autoplay=true
Got a question about employment law during COVID-19? Write to Howard at firstname.lastname@example.org
Howard Levitt is senior partner of LSCS Law, employment and labour lawyers. He practices employment law in eight provinces. He is the author of six books including the Law of Dismissal in Canada. Peter W. G. Carey is a partner at LSCS Law.