Why your options may be limited if your employer wants you back in the workplace

The pandemic need to get your work done outside of the workplace is ending as restrictions and mandates are relaxed and employers refocus on getting people back to work in person.

While employers can reduce temporary measures, they should also consider how the work environment has changed since COVID-19 took hold in early 2020, that flexible arrangements have proven possible, and how employees may feel about returning to work. I work in person. say experts in Canada.

“Employees have proven, at least in their own minds, that they are just as productive, if not more productive, working from home,” said Janet Candido, a Toronto-based human resources (HR) consultant.

“So, that’s where the pushback is.”

Agreements are agreements

Nadia Zaman, an employment attorney at Rudner Law in Markham, Ont., said she and her colleagues have answered an increasing number of questions about returning to the workplace in recent months.

Labor lawyer Nadia Zaman says that, in general, “employees do not have the right to choose where to do their work unless they already had that right” before the pandemic. (Submitted by Nadia Zaman)

“Employers can generally dictate whether the employee can work from home or must return to the office, either fully or in a hybrid model, unless there is an agreement to the contrary,” Zaman said in an interview.

There are a few exceptions, mostly limited to legitimate hosting needs or specific security concerns.

But Zaman said “employees have no right to choose where to work unless they already had that right” before the pandemic.

A changing world of work

The extended period of time employees have spent working from home is part of a larger context of change.

Matthew Fisher, an employment lawyer and partner at Toronto-based Lecker & Associates, said many employees have learned “there can be a different way, there can be flexibility, there can be remote work.”

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Uncertain future of work for Canadians

Nita Chhinzer, associate professor of human resources and business consulting at the University of Guelph, and Matthew Fisher, employment attorney at Lecker and Associates Law, join Canada Tonight host Ginella Massa to talk about how the pandemic has brought about change in the work culture and what the future of work could be.

He predicts that some employees will point to the success of alternative arrangements when employers ask them to return to work in person, and that may be part of eventual legal challenges alleging constructive terminations, when an employee feels they have been forced to leave the job. worked. job because of job requirements.

In an interview with CBC canada tonightFisher said employees can tell their bosses, “You’ve broken a very fundamental aspect of our working relationship that I do the best I can, but I have a level of flexibility that I can work remotely.”

Zaman said that is more likely to happen as such arrangements continue, particularly if the employer has not clearly communicated that the alternative work arrangements are temporary.

“One way employers can ensure they are protecting themselves… is to clearly communicate to employees that remote work is only continuing as a stopgap measure due to the pandemic and its after effects, and that workers are expected to return.” to the office at some point,” Zaman said.

Candido, founder and director of an HR consulting group, said she advises clients to make sure this message is repeated “a couple of times a year,” for the same reason Zaman described.

Persuasion can be helpful

Regardless of any legal context, employers have reasons to convey their plans to employees, if only to make clear the fact that change is coming, experts said.

Winny Shen of York University’s Schulich School of Business encourages organizations to explain to employees why they want them back in the office, even if that’s not what some of them want to hear. (Submitted by Winny Shen)

Winny Shen, associate professor of organizational studies at York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto, recommends that organizations share with staff why workplace requirements are changing.

“I think sometimes organizations just say, ‘We want everyone back in the office,’ but they’re not very explicit about why… they feel like it’s a pressing need or maybe who they think really needs to get back in the office.” “

That communication also gives employees the opportunity to evaluate the information and possibly provide feedback, which could include employees highlighting “some of the things the organization hasn’t thought of.”

look at the negotiation

Where there are divisions between what employees want and what their employers require, both sides need to consider what’s possible under the circumstances, Candido said.

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Workers want flexibility with return-to-office plans

With pandemic restrictions easing in Canada, businesses are preparing to welcome employees back to the office. But many are backing off and asking for flexible work arrangements, while others hope to return to the office.

“Don’t draw a line in the sand, just try to negotiate,” Candido said. For example, employees can bring up the idea of ​​making it easier for them to return to the workplace, he said, and employers should make an effort to listen to them.

“Employers shouldn’t ignore employee concerns and probably won’t if they are presented in a more cooperative manner.”

Retaining staff is also a consideration when employers make long-term work arrangement decisions, experts said.

David Kraichy, an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan Edwards School of Business, said employers that continue to offer flexible work plans may find it easier to recruit talent.

Employees who disagree with their current employer’s return-to-work plan “may be more willing to look elsewhere,” Kraichy said.

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