What’s New?

Return-to-Work Considerations

by Jennifer Shaw and Melissa Whitehead | | April 8, 2024

In the four years since the COVID-19 pandemic made “telework” a household name, many employers have permitted employees to stay home or work a hybrid schedule. However, more and more employers are requiring employees to return to in-person work. As a result, we receive a lot of questions on the topic, some of which are highlighted below.

Can We Require Employees to Return to In-Person Work?

Yes!  Even if employees are hired with an understanding that they will work remotely or a hybrid schedule, employers legally can change the arrangement any time, provided the employee is “at will.”  Of course, revoking telework may have moral implications, but that’s generally not a legal issue.  It’s important to keep in mind, though, that when an employee requests remote work as a reasonable accommodation of a disability, employers must approach the question a little differently.  (See below.)

How Much Notice Should We Give to Make Employees Return In-Person Work?

Before requiring remote workers to return to the worksite, employers must review and comply with any applicable agreements. For example, collective bargaining agreements and/or memoranda of understanding may require union employees to be permitted to work a hybrid schedule or require a certain notice period before revoking telework privileges. Employers also may have remote work agreements with their employees that contain similar provisions.

If there are no contractual requirements, then employers should be reasonable in terms of the notice they provide. In many cases, the best risk mitigation tools in an employer’s toolbox are happy employees – treating them with courtesy goes a long way. Requiring employees to return to work “effective immediately” will result in more disgruntled employees than giving reasonable notice.

What About Employees Teleworking as a Reasonable Accommodation?

Employers may not unilaterally remove telework for employees approved to telework as a reasonable accommodation of a disability. Those employees should have separate telework agreements and conditions, the duration of which will depend on the situation.  Of course, employers are not required to approve accommodations for an indefinite duration, so it’s important to set up an internal process to manage these situations.  (If you have questions about reasonable accommodations, join our upcoming two-day workshop, “Effectively Managing Leaves of Absence and Reasonable Accommodations (Advanced Topics)” on September 19, 2024, and September 26, 2024. Obtain more information and register here.) 

How Should We Communicate the Decision?

Employers should provide written notice when revoking a telework arrangement.  The notice should include the date on which employees must return to the worksite, as well as any other necessary details related to logistics – e.g., whether they need to bring laptops back to the office, where they will be working, etc. The notice also should include an explanation of the reason for revoking the telework agreement and identify a point of contact if employees have questions or concerns.

***

Many employees want to work at home.  And they may be willing to quit a good job if they aren’t permitted that option.  Employers who want employees to return to in-person work need to explain the benefits of doing so, and show employees how working onsite can benefit their growth and career development, and drive camaraderie and teamwork. 

Never Miss a Post
Please enter all required fields Click to hide
Correct invalid entries Click to hide
X