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January 14, 2021

CBC Interviews Ben Millard: Can Employees Insist on Working from Home During COVID?


Ben Millard recently spoke to CBC News about whether employers can force their employees to work on-site at the office during the COVID crisis.

The short answer is that, with a few exceptions, employers can require employees to work in the office, provided that the employer has complied with all required safety measures to ensure a safe workplace. In terms of COVID, the employer is required to comply with applicable public health orders and directions including those regarding mask wearing, physical distancing, COVID screening tools etc…

If an employee believes that the employer is not complying with required health and safety measures and is putting them at undue risk of COVID-19, the employee has the right to refuse work under the applicable health and safety legislation. A health and safety officer from the government would then inspect the workplace to determine whether it is unsafe. If the workplace is found to be unsafe, the inspector would issue orders to the employer to correct the issues. Once the order has been complied with, the employee would have to return to work.

However, in many cases, the reason that an employee needs to work from home is because the employee has an underlying health condition that puts them at high risk of COVID, or they have to care for a family member who has such a condition. In these circumstances, the employee may have a claim under human rights legislation. As Ben told the CBC:

“If you have a medical condition and a letter from your doctor, and working from home is a reasonable accommodation, the employer has a duty to consider that.”

In all cases, employers and employees should work cooperatively to try to find an acceptable arrangement regarding work-from-home requests, especially during COVID. If you cannot reach such an agreement, we recommend contacting Millard & Company so we can advise you on your legal rights.

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