Sudbury·Audio

Employers, employees being encouraged to embrace 'best practices' as pandemic changes how we work

Workplace rules are rapidly being tested, bent and reshaped during this pandemic. Both employers and employees are working overtime to forge a new understanding of one another. A workers advocacy group in Sudbury is offering to help with the process.

'There's literally a plethora of questions that employers have to address in the current environment'

Scott Florence is the executive director of the Sudbury Workers Education and Advocacy Center. He says people are starting to ask more questions about their rights and responsibilities as they resume work during the pandemic. (Supplied/sudburyworkerscentre.ca)

Workplace rules are rapidly being tested, bent and reshaped during this pandemic. Both employers and employees are working overtime to forge a new understanding of one another.

A workers advocacy group in Sudbury is offering to help with the process.

Executive director Scott Florence says employees are calling the Sudbury Workers Education and Advocacy Centre because they are concerned about their health and safety, as well as changes to their workloads. The agency helps low-wage and precarious workers who are in non-union environments. 

"Unfortunately there is very little built into the Employment Standards Act around some of these issues ... they're just not mentioned, which means that it comes down to best practices," Florence said.

Businesses restarting operations have a lot of concerns too, says labour and employment lawyer Brad Smith.

"There's literally a plethora of questions that employers have to address in the current environment," he said.

"There are a lot of legal issues that arise and a lot of it is going to be changing over time as the legislature, or as the courts, deal with these various issues surrounding gig workers."
Brad Smith, is a lawyer and partner at Weilers Law in Thunder Bay. He specializes in labour relations, employment and family law. (Supplied/Brad Smith)

Smith is a lawyer and partner at Weilers Law in Thunder Bay, and specializes in labour relations, employment and family law. He will be exploring some of those questions with employers during a webinar next week.

In the meantime, Scott Florence says workers need to be proactive.

"We talk with workers about how they can discuss best practices with their employers."

He says the agency helps employees access the information they need to ensure they're not being taken advantage of in the workplace.

For example, he says people are starting to ask more questions about employers covering the costs associated with working from home, including increased internet service charges and phone bills.

"The answer is, they should be, especially if it's not something that you had agreed to prior to your beginning work," Florence said.

"And for many of us who are suddenly now thrust into the role of having to work from home — it wasn't part of our original agreement. It's a significant material change in our working conditions and those kinds of things should be addressed and compensated by the employer."

This pandemic is challenging many workers to learn to speak up for themselves as they adapt to a new world of work. We heard from the Sudbury Workers Education and Advocacy Center about why it's so important to speak up for your rights. 9:37

About the Author

Wendy Bird

CBC Sudbury

Wendy Bird is a journalist based in Sudbury who specializes in topics of concern to northern Ontario. Reach her at wendy.bird@cbc.ca, and on Twitter and Instagram @bendyword.

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