Without question, the last two years have changed our way of thinking about the workplace. According to a Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey released in February, nearly a quarter of workers reported they have been working exclusively at home during the pandemic.

A lot of people like to work from home

A 2021 survey by the Business Development Bank of Canada found that 55 per cent of employees would like to continue to work from home after the pandemic is over.  A Statistics Canada study last year found that most new teleworkers reported being at least as productive at home as they were going into the office.

Many have moved out of cities to small towns, and hope they can continue to work from home on a full-time or part-time basis.

Many employers want their workers back in the workplace. But can it last?

With the Omicron wave subsiding, it’s anticipated that many workplaces will reopen soon. According to a recent CTV news report, the federal, provincial and Toronto municipal government are all indicating they want their workers back in the office. Ontario announced it wants its 60,000 employees back in the workplace three days a week by April 4.

Where does that leave employees who have been productively working from home and enjoying the flexibility of such an arrangement? Many are left wondering whether their employer can force them to return to the office. Are they within their rights to request to continue working from home?

Can my employer force me to come back to the office after working remotely?

working from homeGenerally speaking, an employer has the right to determine where employees will work. If the understanding before the pandemic was that you were to perform your duties in a specific workplace or setting, and your employer wants you to go back, they can require you to come back to the office.

This assumes that the company is meeting all the requirements to protect the health and safety of their workers. Conditions include physical distancing, mask wearing, and limiting the number of people in the workplace. Your employer must comply with all post-pandemic public health guidelines and workplace safety measures.

Are there exceptions to having to go back to the office?

Yes. If, for health reasons, your doctor feels you should not return to the office, and you’re able to work from home, your employer should allow you to continue working there so that you can abide by what your doctor says. This includes immunocompromised employees.

If you have childcare obligations that cannot be met if you return to the office, your employer has to accommodate that.

Otherwise, your employer can require you to return to the office after working remotely, and may be able to treat a refusal to return as a resignation.

The hybrid workplace – a flexible solution

Fortunately, many organizations understand the downside of trying to go back to the way things were, or trying to rigidly control how things go in the future. They are open to new, more accommodating approaches to how their teams work. Many are adopting a hybrid model, where employees have the flexibility of working remotely, yet can still take advantage of the benefits of in-person collaboration.

The view is: It’s not where you go to work. It’s what you do.

At Howard Nightingale Professional Corporation, we’ll keep you posted on workplace changes.

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