Written by Jacquie Fristch and Yara Khankan

The global workforce is ever-changing, and the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can make navigating your responsibilities as an employer challenging. As “work from anywhere” is becoming the new remote standard, your organization must protect the needs of your business while safeguarding your team members globally.

The pandemic has forced many employees and employers into a reactive state, which was perhaps presumed temporary at the onset. However, many months later, we’re seeing employees and employers begin adopting more permanent and longer-term changes with their remote work arrangements. There are many scenarios to consider—employees relocating for work, relocating as a lifestyle change, or of their own accord, and not advising employers of the change.

Statistics show a 44% growth in remote work over the past five years (Global Workplace Analytics). This is an indicator that remote work is here to stay. From pre-approved work arrangements to work from anywhere, remote work can take on many forms, some of which can be complex. Both the employee and employer will need to review each situation and give attention to many considerations.

While you may not be legally obligated to accommodate employees that elect remote work options or refuse recalls to the office, there are other considerations for you as an employer. As a best practice, employers can extend remote work options to employees and accommodate these unique situations by creating flexible solutions. As part of a total rewards program for key/remote employees, special considerations can be made to accommodate remote workers, including health care spending accounts in lieu of domestic benefits spend, local coverage options, and international plans. It’s imperative to discuss the options available and applicable to your organization with your employee benefits consultants to develop a plan that meets your employee’s needs and any mandatory or regulatory options.

Every employer needs to consider the culture and philosophy of their organization and take steps to develop a plan that extends this to the remote working population. Culture is a key talent acquisition and retention tool that needs to be a primary consideration. Remote work has positive implications for an employer, including offering a substantially expanded talent pool in very competitive marketplaces.

As an employer, you must consider these varied scenarios and prepare for them. This means considering your legal obligation, your duty of care, a documented remote work policy, amending employee contracts, and any subsequent implications to you and your organization.

Moreover, employers should prepare a remote work policy with agreement terms and conditions, consider cybersecurity risk and location of confidential information. How does this relate to your employees working remotely or abroad? Is there a risk to you as an employer? What security measures can be implemented to ensure that employees adhere to the policy?

As employee benefits consultants for multinational employers, this topic is very prevalent with our clients.  We work with our partners to better understand and help de-code this changing environment from an employer perspective related to HR policy and legal responsibility and from a benefits and total rewards perspective. Two-way communication is key. Employers should encourage employees to communicate any relocation decisions while giving the employer time to prepare for change, discuss options, and impact employment contracts.

Insights into managing recall and accommodation requests, refusals to return, mitigating termination risk and the like have brought light to the considerations employers must understand when developing policy and responsibilities related to remote work and work from anywhere situations. Human Resource and legal insight are a must when developing a remote work policy and enforcing employment contract regulations.

Reach out to your Cowan consultant, who can help you navigate these waters and enlist the appropriate resources to assist.

Don’t miss Jacquie Fritsch and Yara Khankan in July’s issue of Benefits Canada for more on the work-from-anywhere post-pandemic boom.