Can Employees Refuse to Return to the Office?
As we continue to navigate the effects of the pandemic, many employees are continuing to work from home despite offices throughout the country reopening their doors. While remote work conditions are preferable for many employees, there is some uncertainty surrounding the duration of remote work arrangements and whether employers can force employees to return to the office. This uncertainty often leads employees and employers alike to ask, “can employees refuse to return to the office?”. While this question is straightforward, the answer is not. That is why the team of employment lawyers at Linley Welwood have compiled some information to answer this question and help both parties understand what their rights and obligations are.
Can Employers Force Employees to Return to the Office?
Unless it is otherwise specified in the employment contract, employers generally have the right to determine where employees must perform their work. If an employee was expected to report to the office every day before the pandemic, it is reasonable for an employer to resume this arrangement so long as the office complies with post-pandemic health guidelines and workplace safety measures. Employees can request to continue working from home or enter a “hybrid” work arrangement where they work partially from home and partially in the office, but an employer is under no obligation to grant this request. If an employee refuses to return to the office upon the request of their employer, they may have their employment terminated as this refusal will be treated as a resignation.
Employers have an obligation to protect the health and safety of their employees. To recall employees, an employer must ensure that they are providing a safe workplace that complies with current pandemic safety guidelines. An employer should also ensure that they did not alter an employee’s employment contract before recalling them. For example, they may have altered their contract to state that they can work from home but did not specify a specific end date. If an employment contract was altered, it will likely need to be renegotiated with the employee. Alternatively, if the contract was not altered in any way, it is perfectly reasonable for the employer to recall the employee. Employers must also accommodate health and childcare needs for employees if they are properly documented.
If an employee is unable to return to the office due to childcare, health, or medical reasons, these must be documented and communicated to their employer. Employees can also request to continue working from home or enter a hybrid arrangement. If the employee has shown that they can effectively complete their responsibilities from home, employers may be more likely to consider these requests, but they are still under no obligation to accommodate or grant them.
To learn more about returning to the office, hybrid work agreements, or other areas related to employment law, get in touch with the team at Linley Welwood. We can be reached through our online contact form and will be happy to answer any questions you may have regarding our services.