Your Employer Asks You to Return to the Office: Now What?

employee returning back to the office

By: Soniya Ponniah– Lecker & Associates 

As Canadian employees grapple with transition back into the office, they find themselves navigating complex legal considerations. An article in the Financial Post (the “Article”) considered the implications of returning to the office, specifically who it has been affecting and who benefits from working from home. 

However, employees need to consider much more to determine if their rights within the workplace are protected. In particular, employees should be questioning whether they have a claim for constructive dismissal if their employer requests that they return to office, or whether their employer has a duty to accommodate them to work from home for medical reasons. 

Constructive Dismissal

The concept of constructive dismissal, as explored in the Article, becomes relevant in the context of returning to the office. In Ontario, constructive dismissal occurs when an employer unilaterally makes significant changes to an employee’s terms and conditions of employment, which creates a hospital or intolerable work environment. This may include alterations to work hours, duties, or the physical work location. 

Clear communication between employers and employees during this transitional period is extremely important to avoid a constructive dismissal claim. Ambiguous policies or sudden changes without proper consultation may potentially expose employers to claims of constructive dismissal. 

Employees should be aware of their rights and, if faced with substantial alterations in their work conditions, contact us to determine if their situation qualifies as a constructive dismissal. 

Medical Accommodation

Medical accommodations when returning to the office are another critical consideration. The Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”) mandates that employers must accommodate employees with disabilities to the point of undue hardship. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, health concerns may qualify as disabilities, which require employers to engage in meaningful accommodation processes. 

As mentioned in the Article, employers need to have a flexible approach during this transitional period. Specifically, employers should acknowledge the diverse health situations that employees may be facing. Employers should be proactive in exploring reasonable accommodations such as remote work, physical modifications to the workplace, or adjusted work hours, to ensure compliance with the Code. 

The return to the office in Ontario necessitates a delicate balance between the operational needs of employers and the rights of employees. Clear communication, proactive accommodation measures, and an understanding of constructive dismissal principles are paramount for a successful transition. 

Your Toronto Employment Lawyer

If you are an employee who believes they have been constructively dismissed or require accommodation in the workplace, contact Lecker & Associates or call us at 416.223.5391 today. We have over 35 years of experience protecting employee rights and representing employees in employment-related disability matters.