May 6, 2022

Why small businesses need to consider a remote work policy and how it may help to retain employees

Employees are quitting their jobs and expecting more from their employers. Here's why small businesses need to consider a remote work policy and how it may help to retain employees.

The world’s Great Resignation (the increased number of employees who voluntarily quit their jobs) has presented employers with opportunities for growth, while simultaneously creating challenges to overcome.

During this time of change, where in-office, hybrid, and remote work arrangements influence employees’ experiences, the Ontario government has recently passed two new laws that impact employment policies as they relate to employee hours of work and privacy.

Against this dynamic work landscape, it can be a challenge for employers to maintain policies that are both compliant and practical. It should not, however, be forgotten that well-written policies serve to establish common expectations and demonstrate an employer’s commitment to treat employees fairly.

If you need to start drafting or revising a remote work policy, please read on. Explore these remote-work ideas and considerations and learn more about Ontario’s new workplace policy requirements.

Employees are taking stock and making demands

Employees across North America are feeling empowered by the Great Resignation. When you can go anywhere and do anything, many are looking for ways to make their work more enjoyable. Hybrid work models, healthier work-life balance, fully remote roles – all these ideas have saturated the world of work. There are now more opportunities for people to get what they want. And if that isn’t with their current employer, giving a reasonable period of notice may offer a quick step forward in their career.

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Employers should consider practical remote work policies

Leadership in large enterprise organizations and small businesses alike have been grappling with ways to create practical remote work policies. Though many have solutions in place, they may not be optimized for employee retention and engagement. That’s why small businesses need to draft effective guidelines. The following are a few key areas that your remote work policy could address:

  • Scope of workforce. Remote work policies may not fit every role. Some people need to come into the office or shop to perform on-site duties. Determine the scope of the workforce that is impacted by remote guidelines.
  • Technology requirements. Wi-Fi, computers, audiovisual equipment – Assess whether your staff need hardware and software for uninterrupted internet connection, clear video conferencing, and continuous data collection.
  • Location preferences. When employees work from home, they may cross a provincial border. This can impact their tax withholdings and insurance coverage. Address your location preferences and requirements for your workforce.
  • Future adaptations. Remote work challenges are real. New requirements can be imposed at any time. A policy with a flexible structure can assist you to meet your legal obligations while running your business effectively.

Supporting the right to disconnect (Ontario)

Ontario’s Bill 27, Working for Workers Act initially made some waves in the Canadian business community with its requirement for employers (of organizations with 25 or more employees) to establish a written “disconnecting from work policy.” It was later confirmed that the contents of the policy can be set at the discretion of employers, though they must comply with the Employment Standards Act. The deadline to have the written policy in place is June 2022.

For employers, this may mean there is a policy gap that needs to be filled or an existing work-hours policy to be updated. Either way, these policies are likely to be subject to more scrutiny by both current employees and new recruits. More information can be found here.

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Transparency around employee monitoring (Ontario)

Whether employees are working from home or in the office, productivity is top of mind for business owners. Because of this, some employers may see value in supervising their employees’ work efforts through the electronic monitoring of, for example, corporate computer usage, email traffic, and cell phone activity.

Ontario’s Bill 88, Working for Workers Act passed in April 2022 and introduced another policy-based obligation for employers (of organizations with 25 or more employees). By October 2022, impacted Ontario organizations are to have a written policy in place on electronic monitoring of employees. The Employment Standards guidance indicates that the policy must state whether the employer electronically monitors employees. If the employer does, the policy must include:

  • a description of how, and in what circumstances, the employer may electronically monitor employees
  • the purposes for which the employer may use the information obtained through electronic monitoring
  • the date it was prepared and the date any changes were made to the policy1

More information can be found here.

Conclusion

While small businesses will continue to adapt to the Great Resignation, it is imperative to keep an eye out for new and improved ways to compete for workers and boost employee retention and engagement. Remote and hybrid work models are preferred by many employees in today’s workforce. It’s important to give people a great place to work while ensuring you have the necessary policy protections in place to set expectations, retain your workforce, and support them to be productive.

 

[1] Your guide to the Employment Standards Act: Recent changes, Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, April, 2022.

Lyndee Patterson

Residing in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Lyndee Patterson is a lawyer on staff at Ceridian responsible for legislative compliance and for monitoring the provincial and federal legislative landscapes from an HCM perspective. She also represents Ceridian on the Federal Government Relations Advisory Council.

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