CHAUDHRI: Employment trends for 2022

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On New Year’s Eve 2020, we clinked glasses, bidding adieu to a year that was, by all accounts, stranger than fiction.

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Little did we know that in December 2021 we would be experiencing a collective case of deja vu.

Employers that were ramping up to welcome staff in office have reversed course, shuttering their shops indefinitely. Remote work came with all the trappings of a revolutionary labour movement, zero-minute commutes, better workplace health, worker happiness and better retention.

Will remote work continue to be a major trend for 2022?

Let’s break down the three biggest trends we can expect next year.

Trend 1: Negotiating the Great Return

While many employees and employee advocates alike will continue to sing the praises of remote workplaces into 2022, all employers are not as enthused.

While Google has pushed back its return-to-work date — originally slated for Jan. 10 — it is facing a work culture crisis. At a year-end all-hands virtual meeting, CEO Sundar Pichai addressed employee concerns regarding company culture, in particular a loss of “candor” and “honesty,” with bureaucracy taking their place. Pichai referenced how remote work might very well be the problem: “We are obviously communicating at scale now — to over 150,000 people and particularly through the pandemic, doing it all remotely.”

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He pointed out virtual meetings have changed how the company communicates, noting, “Sometimes, I do think that people are unforgiving for small mistakes. I do think people realize that answers can be quoted anywhere, including outside the company. I think that makes people very careful.”

When employer-employee conversations can be the subject of media stories like this one, workplace culture suffers. The foundation of the employment relationship, things like trust and loyalty, are not just threatened, but relinquished when employers can’t communicate authentically but instead are required to first consider optics. Remote work and communicating over electronic means alone, may, in large part removed a sense of loyalty to employers as remote employees enter a third year of remote work.

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A trend for 2022 will be large employers making a more concerted effort to return employees to physical workplaces. When that happens, smaller and mid-size employers will follow.

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Trend 2: Judges to weigh in on the homestead as the workplace

Earlier this month, a Quebec labour judge found that an Air Canada employee who fell on her staircase while working at home suffered a workplace injury and was entitled to worker’s compensation. This finding will push judges in all provinces to consider whether employees are entitled to greater rights while working at home.

Employees who have no choice but to work at home will ask for more equipment, retrofitted home offices that are ergonomic, and clarity on how to maintain privacy while working at home. With the home becoming the permanent workplace for some, employers will have to budget for home improvements unless employees are returned to the workplace.

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Trend 3: Vaccine mandates will be given a second look

Earlier this month, the city of New York mandated that all private employers impose a vaccine mandate for all employees. While Canada hasn’t gone that far, with the introduction of booster shots employers will have to consider if boosters will be mandated for all employees as cases of COVID resurge. Undoubtedly though, resistance to vaccine mandates will continue to be a trend throughout 2022. In November 2021, Google was on the receiving end of at least 600 employees resisting the vaccine mandate. While small, vocal resistance to mandates will present significant challenges to employers in the new year, employers will be faced with workforce disruption when required to confront the issue of non-vaccinated employees.

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On to this week’s questions:

Q. I was laid off in 2020 and never got my job back. I haven’t even heard from my employer at all! Am I just supposed to assume I am terminated and move on?

A. If you haven’t secured a new job I would certainly reach out to your employer to see if you have a shot at getting your job back. The Infectious Disease Emergency Leave has been extended to July 2022, so your employer would have to contact you by then (at the latest, unless extended). If your employer doesn’t plan to bring you back you may want to enter discussions now about whether or not you are going to be offered a severance package.

Q. My employer had a holiday get together at work. We all brought in a snack or drink. Now one person from work said they tested positive for COVID. If I can’t go to work now because I have it will I still get paid? I would never have gone to the holiday party but only went because my employer planned it.

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A. If you contract COVID you will be eligible for three paid days away from work. Given the surge of COVID cases, it is difficult to contract trace (or for you to establish who you got it from). Even then, if more than two employees at your work get COVID, your employer is required to report it.

Talk to your employer about what you can do to work while isolating if your symptoms are mild. Talk to a lawyer if your wage losses are significant.

Have a workplace question? Maybe I can help! Email me at sunira@worklylaw.com and your question may be featured in a future article.

The content of this article is general information only and is not legal advice.

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