Canadian Underwriter

The new flex workplace: Can your boss ask you to work late if you take time off midday?

June 23, 2021   by Adam Malik

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As COVID draws to a close, expect the following dilemma to happen more often in a flexible workplace environment.

It is one of your days to work from home. You ask your manager if you can take an hour off in the middle of your workday to run an errand. The boss agrees. Later, your manager asks you to respond to an email late at night.

Fair trade?

Yes, if both parts have been agreed to ahead of time, says a risk expert.

“It’s reasonable as long as you agree to it in advance,” said Robin Daddar, Aon’s Toronto-based vice president and senior consultant of fleet, safety, health and environment, and risk control services.

Take the example of P&C insurance professionals who are on-call, for example. For those in the insurance industry, it’s normal to get a call from a panicked client late at night or on the weekend about a claim. That comes with the territory, Daddar explained. They are compensated for that time.

But your manager can’t reasonably expect you to always be available to answer their calls or emails after the typical workday has ended, Daddar added. Especially when not agreed to ahead of time.

“In the working situation right now, we finish work at five o’clock and put our computer away. You or the client can call me but I’m not there. I’m not working anymore. Gone. It’s the end of the day,” he said in an interview.

It’s easier to push back when there are distinct start and end times to your workday. Daddar said. But those distinctions can become blurred in a work-from-home situation. Daddar said that for people in certan lines of work, it’s hard to end the day at a certain time due to the nature of the job.

Still, he said, there are limits.

Worried woman working late at home

Expecting employees to finish tasks outside of traditional workday hours is “not something that can be pushed down your throat by regulations,” he said, citing an example of expecting employees to respond to after-hours work emails or communication. “It’s got to be an understanding between the company and you [about] the kind of work you’re doing.”

At the same time, if an employee wants an employer to provide them with the flexibility to disappear in the middle of the day, the boss can reasonably expect the employee to be available when needed. But the situation can’t be assumed — it needs to be discussed.

“It’s got to be a good understanding between the employer and their workers to do that because if they give you more flexibility in the daytime, you could also be expected [to work] in the evening, in off-work hours,” Daddar told Canadian Underwriter.

For an employee, having the flexibility to work remotely from home may come with answering weekend phone calls or emails. You may get a call at an off-hour because something has happened and you’re the most-equipped person to get an answer the fastest. “That’s our reality, as we are in the insurance business,” Daddar added.

So how do you build that understanding and set reasonable limits?

There absolutely needs to be something in writing via a contract, Daddar emphasized.

“The contract and discretion upfront is going to be the big part of it in there,’” he said. “So, if employers have to give the workers their expectations, the workers should come back and say, ‘This is what I can do, this is what is reasonable.’

“Someone with young kids, or who has to provide care for someone, can say they’re not going to do any work after a certain time of the day. Or that if something is urgent, you’ll get to it, but not until after 8 p.m., for example.

“That’s reasonable. Discussions and understandings like this are going to be the key thing.”

Daddar discourages any verbal or handshake agreements. People easily forget things, or they can claim that they never agreed to it, he points out, citing one of his own work experiences from some time ago.

Daddar recalled taking a job with a previous company, at which time he asked for permission to do some consulting work with previous clients. The new employer agreed. Soon after, however, when Daddar said he needed to visit one of those clients on an urgent matter, the employer denied such an agreement had taken place.

“They said, ‘We didn’t agree to this,’” Daddar recalled. “I said, ‘Wait a minute, you agreed to this right in front of me. I took this job because this verbal agreement.’”

In a contract, both sides should be okay with the terms and conditions before signing, Daddar said. “That way, if a problem arises or have to go to court afterwards, there’s no ambiguity because it’s there in black and white. You both agreed to it.

“I think [it’s] reasonable [to ask about] hours of work and expectations,” Daddar said. “How many [hours]? When do you need me? How often? And am I going to be called after-hours? When is it reasonable for me to answer? Or what is reasonable for me to be compensated for that kind of additional work?

“I think [those discussions are] a key component in [any agreement]. And it all depends on what work you kind of do.”


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