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It is becoming more and more common for people to do at least some of their regular work from home or another location instead of going into the office. Technology has made it possible for a worker to stay at home but be connected to the office by telephone, computer, and internet. This type of arrangement is known by many terms, including telework, telecommuting, remote work, or working from home.
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Ideally, the employer and employee would create a written agreement that outlines the expectations of both parties.
Note that for employees who are asked to work from home or work remotely due to emergency circumstances such as severe weather or public health orders (e.g., due to a epidemic or pandemic), there may not be a formal agreement in place. Consult with your employer about what options are available. This information can also be added to the organization’s business continuity plan.
From a health and safety viewpoint, employers and employees should consider a few important points when agreeing to a telework or work at home arrangement. These considerations include:
A home office should meet the same health and safety requirements as those available at work where possible. For example:
For more information on how to set up a workstation, please see the Ergonomics section of OSH Answers. When necessary, ask if your employer can assist with a home office ergonomic assessment, which may be available remotely through video.
Duties, expectations, and deadlines should be clearly outlined and agreed upon by both the supervisor and the teleworker. Be careful not to "over work". There are natural breaks in an office environment that will not occur when at home. Discussions with co-workers or a quick walk to the printer offer opportunities for a change in body position that may be missing in a home office. Extended hours in the same body position or repeated motions can lead to various musculoskeletal injuries.
A home office should offer the same level of safety and security as the employee would receive at the regular work office. When an employee is working at home, they may be working alone. While working alone in itself is not a risk, it can present a unique situation should something unexpected happen. It is important to keep to a contact schedule even if there are not "work" details to discuss.
An appropriate work space at home may include:
In addition to those tips mentioned above, the following should be considered.
While you may not have to drive to get to work that day, it is still important to keep to a 'work day ritual'. Some tips for working at home include:
One of the most important health and safety questions that should be answered when working at home is who will be responsible for health and safety issues and worker's compensation if the employee is injured. To avoid complications, there should be a written agreement between the employer and the employee clarifying these matters. Where possible, aim to maintain appropriate health and safety standards at home.
Health and safety issues include:
This policy could also outline:
Occupational health and safety or compensation laws related to teleworking or working remotely arrangements may be different in each jurisdiction. In many situations there is little or no formal guidance available. Having a policy or agreement between the employer and employees may be beneficial, and will assist the employer with their role of due diligence when duties are not specifically outlined in legislation.
It is important to contact your local government department responsible for occupational health and safety to find out what laws apply to your situation. A list of phone numbers and addresses for these departments is available at Canadian Government Departments Responsible for OH&S.
You may also want to check with your union, other labour or employment contracts, or your Health and Safety Committee or member as well as company policies.
The following issues or points can be used as a checklist for a teleworking agreement or policy:
The policy should clearly state what criteria will be used to evaluate the agreement. Evaluation may include the following items:
In some cases, only changes to the telework arrangement may be necessary, while in others the arrangement may be ended. Keep all involved up-to-date if changes to the overall policy occur.