Working from Home: Can Your Boss Make You Go Back to the Office?

With another wave of Covid, employees are wondering if they should still follow guidelines for working in the office.

The global pandemic has forced a radical change in the traditional workplace.

While this change has made its way into some offices forever, others have since asked their employees to return, at least part-time. But with a new wave of Covid on the rise, do you have the right to fight back?

Unfortunately, the answer seems to be “not quite”.

“For most workers where there are no public health orders restricting travel or work from the office, posting to work from the office is likely to be legal,” Mackenzie Wakefield, an employment specialist at Maurice Blackburn, told News.com.au.

“Whether this is reasonable will depend on the specific circumstances of the employer, employee and other factors such as the prevalence of Covid-19 or influenza in the community.”

“Relevant considerations may include the impact of working from home on the employer’s operations, whether the employee has illness or care responsibilities, and whether the employee can perform all of their responsibilities while working from home.”

This doesn’t mean you won’t get the chance to ask to work from home, but you’ll need a more compelling reason than general concern about contracting Covid.

“If an employee has a specific reason for not wanting to return to the office — other than general concern about contracting Covid-19 or the flu — they should talk to their employer or union,” Wakefield suggests.

“If they have sickness or care responsibilities, they may have the right to request flexible work hours, which the employer can only refuse for reasonable business reasons.”

“Workers with disabilities may also seek reasonable adjustments to their role, including working from home, as long as this does not create significant hardship for their employer.”

Wakefield warns that while you can ask, employees should be careful about refusing to follow their employer’s instructions because it could lead to disciplinary action.

“If they are unsure of their position, they should talk to their union or a lawyer,” she added.

So yes, you will probably have to keep going to your workplace if you are asked to. At the same time, your workplace should be safe and healthy for employees even after a pandemic.

“What it looks like depends on the workplace,” Wakefield explains. “Measures such as proper ventilation, the possibility of social distancing and allowing unhealthy workers to stay at home are important.”

“If an employee is concerned that their workplace is unsafe, they should ask the employer about the measures they have taken to protect their safety and contact their union.”

While many jobs have returned to the office since the lockdown, the vast majority appear to have worked part-time where possible. This is the beginning of the agile company culture that Wakefield welcomes.

“For many workers, the pandemic has highlighted the value of flexible work, especially for women, who typically bear the brunt of caregiving responsibilities.”

“The ability to combine work and family responsibilities is no longer negotiable. We will likely see more employers offering flexible work to attract and retain workers.”

“Employers who don’t keep up with them could lose the war for talent.”

Originally published as Can your boss force you to return to the office?