working from home, employment contract

What can I do if my employer is forcing me back to the office?

As COVID-19 restrictions lessen and many employers look to reopen their office spaces for their employees, work culture is gradually shifting back to in-person situations. While many offices are choosing to remain with their employees working from home, many are not. 

 

However, as employers look to return to a sense of normalcy after COVID-19 changes, lots of employees have gotten used to working from home. For many people, working from home has allowed them to maintain a better work-life balance, care for family members, and reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19. While the pandemic measures are winding down, it is important to remember that there are still at-risk populations that need to be careful about their safety.

 

So: imagine you have been working from home for two years, and then suddenly told that you must switch to working in the office, what do you do? Do you have to switch your schedule to come in, or can you continue to work from home? Keep reading to find out!

 

Are there rules about bringing employees back into the office?

 

Currently, there are no rules prescribed by any legislation, including (in Ontario) the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”), dictating whether employees have to come into the office to work or not. This means that an employer cannot force an employee to return to the office based on legislation or anything in the ESA.

 

Instead, rules about whether an employee needs to come into the office and where they should work tend to be based on what’s in an employee’s employment contract.

 

What is an employment contract and what does it have to do with me working from home?

 

An employment contract (or employment agreement) is a document that is signed between an employer and an employee. The employment contract can determine things like the rate of pay, working hours, and working location. Each employment contract is different, and in some cases, there may not even be a written employment agreement. 

 

An employment contract is in place, make sure to read over it carefully to see what it says about where you should work from. If there is a clause about coming into the office, then an employer can rely on that to bring their employees back in. If the employee refuses to return to the office, the employer can claim that the employee abandoned their job and might be able to fire them.

 

The employment contract says that you can work from home or if the clause about where the employee must work from uses vague language, you may have an easier time claiming that working from home is a condition of your employment.

 

If there is no established employment contract, then there are no specific rules about the location of work. In such cases, the employee could look at what was the expectation at the start of the job. If it was expected that you were to come into the office when you were hired, then that might be an implied term of your employment. If you were hired to work from home, then you may have an easier time arguing that working from home is a term of your employment.

 

Working from home is a condition of my employment, what can I do?

 

If you are able to argue that working from home is a condition of your employment, make sure to let your employer know in writing that you would like to continue to work from home. Make sure to point out (if applicable) that your employment agreement allows you to work from home, or that you were hired on the assumption that you would continue to work from home after restrictions have been lifted. If you need to work from home due to an accommodation reason, make sure to communicate that clearly to your employer.

 

You may also be able to argue that you have been constructively dismissed if your employer continues to try to force you back into the office.

 

If you are interested in pursuing constructive dismissal as an option, make sure to speak to a qualified employment lawyer about how to go about doing that.

 

Tips for starting a job if you want to work from home permanently

 

If you want to work from home permanently, make sure that your employer knows this when you take up a position. Tell your employer about why you need to work from home (especially if it is due to a disability) and if they agree to let you work from home permanently, make sure that you get that promise in writing. If you can, make sure that there is a clause in your employment contract permitting working from home.

 

Wherever possible, make sure that you and your employer are on the same page about working from home. Communicate your needs in writing and leave a paper trail that you can point to if an issue ever arises.

 

Conclusion

 

COVID-19 has changed the workplace landscape for many people. Lots of workers have grown accustomed to working from home throughout the pandemic, and as restrictions lift, there are differing opinions on whether employees should continue to work from home or be forced to return to the office.

 

If you are concerned about being forced to return to in-person work, make sure to reach out to a qualified employment lawyer at Achkar Law as soon as possible. An employment lawyer can help you figure out where you stand with your employment contract, and they can help you make a game plan for how to move forward.

 

Contact Us

 

If you are an employee who is concerned about returning to in-person work, our team of experienced workplace lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at 1 (800) 771-7882 or email us at [email protected], and we will be happy to assist. 

 

If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support with a same-day response, visit our Chief Legal Officer Program page for our strategic solutions.

AchkarLaw