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I live 1,500 kilometres away, but my company may scrap remote work

THE QUESTION

I work at home, from a location more than 1,500 kilometres from my company's primary facility. This arrangement dates from 16 years ago, when I received approval to move from the company location. Now the company is deliberating a ban on remote work of any kind. If instructed to report to the company location or lose my job, is there a case for constructive dismissal and appropriate severance? Better: Can you recommend how to persuade the company to maintain my employment situation as is?

THE FIRST ANSWER

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George Cottrelle Partner, Keel Cottrelle LLP, Toronto

The fact you have worked exclusively from home for 16 years, with approval, and that your home is such a long distance from your employer's current place of business, means that working remotely on a full-time basis is a material term of your employment. A change in work location, including no longer being permitted to work from home, without other employment changes, may constitute a substantive change to the employment relationship, depending on a number of factors.

Your employer's proposed ban on working remotely would be a significant change to a fundamental term of your employment relationship, given your circumstances. In most cases, an employer is permitted to unilaterally change a material term of an employee's employment arrangements, but must provide reasonable notice to the employee before implementing the change. In your case, the period of reasonable notice that your employer would need to provide would be significant. If your employer requires that you report to work at its offices, without reasonable notice, or dismisses you for failure to report to its premises, you would have a claim for constructive dismissal, or for wrongful dismissal, and in both cases, would be entitled to statutory payments and common law damages.

You should advise your employer that the proposed ban on working remotely is stressful for you, and would result in adverse financial and work issues for both you and your employer. Accordingly, your working arrangements should remain unchanged.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Greg Conner Executive director of human resources, BC Transit, Victoria

My advice is predicated on what I see as your clear desire to remain employed with your company as a remote worker. Your task is to sell your employer on why leaving your current terms and conditions of employment the same is the best option for both the company and you. Do that by outlining the value you have provided the company over the past 16 years and how that value will continue if the current working relationship is maintained. You indicated that the company is "deliberating a ban" so you must show them how, at least in your case, that ban would be counterproductive.

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To be successful in working remotely, especially for as long as you have, requires self-discipline, accountability and a strong outcome-focused, goal-oriented personality. Sounds like an employee I would not want to lose. Faced with choosing between the severance costs associated with losing you, or agreeing to your current arrangement seems like a pretty easy choice to me. As a backup, if they decide to ban all remote work arrangements, request that they delay implementing the ban for at least a year, which should give you an opportunity to look for other employment in your current location.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com

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