Now that Labour Day has passed, the expectation is that more Employers will continue to request that their employees return to the office. Bay Street law firms, big banks and companies such as Apple have announced that their employees will be returning to the office in a hybrid format. While not every company will require its employees to return to the office, more and more companies are using this fall as the chance to bring workplaces back closer to the way they were prior to the pandemic. As such, it’s important for employers and employees to understand their legal rights on the issue, and that is why our wrongful dismissal lawyer Toronto would like to share his opinion on the topic.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Working from Home
According to a survey done earlier in 2022, only 12% of respondents said they prefer going into the office full-time. Working remotely (30%) and splitting time between the office and home (27%) received significantly more support. Employees who prefer the remote working experience cite benefits such as the absence of a daily commute, additional flexibility, and a generally improved work-life balance. Some common complaints employers have of a remote workplace is that there is less collaboration in the office and that it’s harder to build a workplace culture that many employers desire.
Regardless of where you stand on the work-from-home debate, it is vital that employers and employees understand what their legal rights are on the issue. The question that many employees and employers are asking now is: can an employee be required to return to the office? Generally, the employer does have the right to require employees to return to the office. This rule is specifically applicable to employees who were hired before the pandemic, worked in the office, and then worked from home during the pandemic. An employer should have no legal issue recalling these workers.
However, the answer may also depend on the terms of the employment contract. If there is a term in the contract that stipulates the employee can work remotely, then the employee can remain working from home.
While the general rule is that an employer can require an employee to return to the office, a complication is if there is no term regarding work location in the contract for employees who were hired during the pandemic. This employee may have a better argument for remaining at home if their expectation was to remain a remote employee regardless of COVID-19. This is an example of an implied term, where even though it was not expressly dealt with in the employment contract, it has legal effect.
Another example of an implied term is if the employer allows employees to work from home long after the legitimate safety concern due to covid-19 is over. At that point, remote work may be considered to be condoned by the employer, thus making it an implied employment contract term.
Some employees may get medical exemptions to stay away from the office, which could be difficult to attain. Similarly, living with a family member who is highly vulnerable to COVID-19 may allow for accommodations to work from home. However, it is important to note that a general fear of the virus is not enough to get an exemption or accommodation of any kind.
Ultimately, if an employer does have the legal right to implement a return to office policy, an employee’s failure to comply could result in a deemed resignation. This is why it’s important to understand your legal rights on this issue, regardless of whether you are an employee or an employer.
A reminder that this blog is only to be used as general information, and it does not constitute legal advice. If you would like to better understand the legal rights in your situation, please feel free to contact our firm.