The relationship between employers and employees has always been a minefield. Seemingly not even the most peaceable workplaces are immune to disputes—whether as a result of termination or unpaid overtime, onsite injury or perceived discrimination.
But since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a “huge uptick” in the number and severity of conflicts requiring legal intervention, says Ben Tarnow, Associate Counsel at Taylor & Blair LLP.
Indeed, media outlets from CBC to Bloomberg Law have reported in the past year that the new realities of employment—from long-term remote work and vaccine mandates to pandemic-enforced downsizing and closures—have resulted in a flood of inquiries from employers and employees alike wanting to know about their rights and legal recourse.
Unprecedented legal issues for employers and employees
Employment law has always been a mystery to the majority, says Tarnow. “Some people have a written employment agreement that sets out the terms and conditions of their employment. But many others don’t, so they’re unaware of what their rights and obligations are in the workplace—and that goes for both sides of the relationship.”
Consequently, employer/employee disputes have long been a cornerstone of Taylor & Blair LLP’s practice.
“A lot of our business arises upon termination. From an employer’s perspective, it can be preventative—before termination, they want to know what their obligations are and how to go about executing the process. And from the employee’s perspective, they want to know what their legal rights are.”
Having a lawyer prepare employment agreements ensures businesses are positioned to manage risk. Photo by iStock.
Yet the workplace issues arising out of the pandemic are a different matter because no one had dealt with them before, nor did anyone anticipate having to.
“[The pandemic began with] temporary layoffs and immediate changes to employees’ working arrangements,” says Tarnow. “And now we have the issue of the vaccine mandate, which touches on health and safety in the workplace. Is it reasonable for an employer to require their employees to be vaccinated? And how should they consider exemptions to those mandates based on medical and human rights grounds? These are very complex, unprecedented issues.”
“Plus,” Tarnow continues, “people who have been working remotely for the past year and a half want to know what their rights are if they’ve been called back to the office—or if they haven’t. And employers want to manage their workforce in terms of how many people should be at their facilities. Or they’ve gone fully remote and now need to know what their obligations will be post-COVID.
The benefits of legal counsel for COVID-related employment issues
For these reasons, says Tarnow, it’s important for employers and employees—whether engaged in a dispute or not—to seek out legal advice before moving forward. A lawyer with experience in employment law can help a client make better sense of their situation and advise as to the best course of action for the client.
“A lot of employers and employees are unaware of the value that we can bring to the table—to either side of the issue. From an employer’s perspective, our involvement can be quite valuable in terms of preventing issues from ever occurring, whether it’s policies or bringing new HR practices into the workplace.
“Employment laws have not been suspended during COVID, even though a lot of people seem to think they have. So, we’re able to advise clients and provide them with the necessary guidance where they can make informed decisions as to their rights and obligations in the workplace—not just upon termination, but any aspect of the employment relationship.”
To learn more about Taylor & Blair LLP’s employment law services and to request a consultation, visit www.vancouveremploymentlaw.com.