Winnipeg Lawyers Discuss Employer Risks as Offices Reopen

Although employers may welcome the recent signs of life returning to normal, they face a number of novel risks as employees return to the office.

In the latest episode of the Ask a Vexxpert podcast, Winnipeg labour and employment lawyers Dany Théberge and Devin Wehrle discussed how COVID-19 has forced employers to adapt to unprecedented circumstances.

After operating during lockdowns at the onset of the pandemic, employers are now tasked with reopening safely – which, in many cases, means welcoming employees back to the office. But employers should think twice before requiring everyone to return to the office.

Certain employees, such as IT professionals, may have had employment contracts that allowed them to work remotely before the pandemic. Requiring them to now work from the office could be a risky move, Dany warned.

“If they were working remotely prior to the pandemic, that may be a major breach of the employer relationship,” Dany said – a breach that could possibly lead to a constructive dismissal claim if the employee decides to resign.

While employers may be curious about whether their employees have been vaccinated against COVID-19, Devin cautioned employers against asking employees whether they’ve been vaccinated.

“From a legal perspective, it’s difficult to have any basis to require employees to disclose their vaccination status,” Devin said. Such requests could trigger privacy and human rights complaints, he added.

Instead of asking for employees’ vaccination status, employers may get a sense of their workforce’s overall vaccination rate by looking at leave time they granted employees to get vaccinated, Devin said. Employers that hosted their own vaccination clinics may already have an idea of how many employees are vaccinated, he added.

Dany and Devin also discussed a variety of other topics, from hiring and firing to employee mental health and drinking on the job, during their appearance on Ask a Vexxpert. To hear the entire conversation, listen to the podcast.

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About Dany Théberge

Dany is a member of the firm’s labour and employment group, advising private and public sector clients on wrongful dismissal, collective agreement bargaining and administration, human rights, occupational health and safety, privacy, discipline and policy drafting.

About Devin Wehrle

Devin provides advice and assistance on all matters relating to labour and employment law, including negotiating and drafting workplace policies, collective agreements and employment contracts. Devin also advises on employment standards complaints, regulatory compliance, termination and discipline of employees, defending wrongful dismissals and complaints against employers.