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Can my B.C. boss make me clean the office during the coronavirus pandemic?

Cleaning products are picture in this stock image. (iStock Photo)
Summary

Your employer is limited in the new duties they can assign

An 'other duties as assigned' clause in an employment contract has limitis, lawyer says

NEWS 1130 is working hard to get you the information you need about the COVID-19 pandemic.

When you have questions, NEWS 1130 Gets Answers.

Question:

If I return to work after working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic and my employer asks me to clean the workplace in addition to my regular duties, do I have to do it?

Answer:

It depends on what is and what isn’t in your employment contract, if you have one.

“It all comes down to what the agreement was between the employee and the employer,” Nathan Rayan, an employment lawyer with North Shore Law, told NEWS 1130. “For most people, subject to their contract, the employer would not have a right to unilaterally make a significant change to the contract.”

While contracts often include a clause saying employees will perform “other duties as assigned” or similar language, Rayan said that doesn’t allow the employer to make the employee do anything they want.

“If you were hired to work at McDonald’s and then your manager assigns you to go join some some kind of private military force or something, no one would say ‘Well, it was other duties as assigned,’ ” he said.

He said most people don’t have a contract explicitly spelling out work duties, but adding a new type of work, such as making a receptionist clean an office, “would probably not be kosher in most cases.”

Courts generally interpret such a clause as restricted to reasonable expectations, such as asking a receptionist to make photocopies, Rayan said.

But, he said, a court would likely find it reasonable if an employer asked its staff members to clean their own work stations more during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If your boss asks you to perform a new duty you don’t feel comfortable with, the first thing you should do is voice that concern, Rayan said.

“They can’t expect the employer to read their mind,” he said.

If that doesn’t work, it may be time to get legal advice, Rayan said.

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