06 Dec Can my employer force me to return to the workplace?
After originally being forced to work remotely with the sudden spread of COVID-19 in March 2020, many employees have grown to prefer working from home. Many employees have established a working-from-home routine that works for them, and potentially gives them a better work-life balance. Before remote work was enforced, employees had to commute long distances, work longer hours, and potentially prioritize work over family time. Because remote work offers new advantages that are more favourable to some employees, it is understandable that they would be reluctant to leave their homes and go back to the office.
An employer has the right to ask employees to return to the workplace if the employer prefers. It is the responsibility of the employer to decide who should be at the workplace based on particular work duties. If the employer believes the employee can perform their role better at the office, then they have the right to tell the employee to be there.
While employers do have the right to ask employees to work in office, there are certain exceptions that employers are required to comply with.
Employers cannot force an in-office working arrangement if demanded by Workplace Health and Safety, specific contractual arrangements, necessary accommodations, or circumstances pertaining to equity.
The employer is strictly asked to adhere to the rules laid out in the Workplace Health and Safety Act which states that employers may only switch to in-office work if it is supported by public health officials. For employers to switch to in-office working conditions, then they must follow the specific rules laid out in this act that ensures everyone’s safety. For example, the workplace must initiate social distancing rules, mandate face masks etc. Employers must also comply to ongoing demands by public health, so if they were to initiate another stay-at-home order, the employer could not legally request employees to come into work.
It is possible that a work-from-home arrangement could be acceptable based on an employment agreement made between the employer and employee. Permitting the employee to work remotely may be a contractual arrangement, and in this case, one that the employer is legally obligated to follow.
Employers are required to accommodate to the point of undue hardship. Employees who are eligible for accommodations are protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code, and the employer must meet the needs of these employees. This responsibility extends to accommodating to those who must work from home, for example, because of a certain disability or health reason that is associated with the COVID-19 virus.
Further, there could be an instance where the employee may insist that they have become reliant on remote work, and it would be unfair for them to change the arrangement. In this case, the employee would be insisting that requiring them to work in office could be a breach in equity.
If you have questions about your return to the workplace, please contact KCY at LAW by filling in an online consultation request or contact us by phone at 905-639-0999 to book your consultation today.