There are many unanswered questions about Canadian workplaces as we look toward reopening offices. The well-established principles and guidelines that employers, unions and employees have followed for many years will certainly help navigate this process. That said, this pandemic takes us into new and uniquely uncharted waters that may well shift some or all of these principles as we move forward. This article will look at the frameworks in place today, as well as best practices for boldly going where few workplaces have gone before.
An important principle is the idea of management rights, in both union and non-union workplaces. Following this principle, employers, for example, have the right to determine work location – remote, in-office, or a mix. In most collective agreements, for example, the management rights clause typically allows management to set all aspects of the work and workplace, unless specific language has been negotiated in the collective agreement. In non-union workplaces, this right can only be constrained by language in individual employment contracts.
This is, of course, not a blanket right – employers cannot violate employment standards legislation or labour laws, nor use this right in any way that is arbitrary, discriminatory, or done in bad faith. Practically speaking, however, if the employer decides they want the workforce to return from remote work to working in the office, they have a right to this.
It would be a mistake, however, for employers to focus too heavily on these rights as a way to make effective decisions for the organization. As a famous saying goes, “Just because you have the right to do something does not make it the right thing to do.” In addition, this right comes along with some significant obligations.