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Employees have few legal rights as B.C. health orders shift back to in person work

Click to play video: 'B.C supports employees returning to the workplace' B.C supports employees returning to the workplace
Many employees have been working from home throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The provincial health officer has amended an order this week, supporting employers bringing workers back into the workplace. Richard Zussman has more. – Feb 18, 2022

Employees in British Columbia have very few options to resist going back into the work place now that the province has removed an order requiring at-home options.

Lia Moody, managing partner at employment law firm Samfiru Tumarkin, says employers determine where an employee works, and the shift in government policy opens the door for a return back to the workplace.

Click to play video: 'Employers no longer required to let staff work from home' Employers no longer required to let staff work from home
Employers no longer required to let staff work from home – Feb 17, 2022

“Employees don’t have much in terms of rights in this situation. An employer has the sole right to determine where an employee will do their work,” Moody said in an interview.

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“There is nothing in the law that requires employers to be sympathetic. But as a business perspective, I would encourage them to be kind and sympathetic.”

Read more: COVID-19: B.C. employers no longer required to let staff work from home

On Thursday, the province announced a COVID-19 health order was being amended “to support the transition of employees back into the workplace.”

There is no longer a health order in place requiring employers to provide virtual or at home work options for employees.

Click to play video: 'Focus BC: Dr. Bonnie Henry on easing restrictions, work place safety and plan for the fall' Focus BC: Dr. Bonnie Henry on easing restrictions, work place safety and plan for the fall
Focus BC: Dr. Bonnie Henry on easing restrictions, work place safety and plan for the fall – Feb 18, 2022

Most work places allowed workers to work from home during the pandemic.

Moody says employers have a duty to accommodate.

This means if an employee does not feel safe in the work environment they must be accommodated. It could also mean if a parent made childcare arrangements based on working from home, the employer must accommodate.

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“If you have moved around your schedule to find child care and there is no other opportunity for you, your employer will be legally required to work with you on that,” Moody said.

Click to play video: 'B.C. easing some COVID-19 restrictions this week' B.C. easing some COVID-19 restrictions this week
B.C. easing some COVID-19 restrictions this week – Feb 15, 2022

In an interview on Focus BC, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said employees will be protected by COVID-19 safety plans and, depending on the work space, a mandate for masking.

Beyond that there are no other health or legal obligations for employers, she said.

But Henry notes employers should be aware a transition to the work place could be challenging for many employees.

“As we open up in other parts of our lives, we need to look at how we do that in the work place,” Henry said.

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