Can business owners force employees to work in the office?

| Mar 19, 2021 | Business Disputes, Business Litigation |

Everyone is excited to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. But as that light gets brighter and businesses bring staff back in-house, there will likely be those who want to continue to work from home or want to wait longer before coming back. The reasons for this are varied and valid, with fear of getting the virus from a coworker likely topping the list.

When employees refuse to return

Employers will need to be patient as folks get vaccinated and put safety measures in place, but at some point, the decisions will need to be made. The conversation about returning should start with a list of precautions taken and new rules instituted to prepare the workers’ return. State and local officials will also provide dates for reopening business and provide updates regarding the pandemic and people’s risks.

Managers and owners may need to take additional steps for employees with documented health issues or general concerns about workplace safety. They must also be mindful of violating Title VII (The Civil Rights Act of 1964), which addresses discriminatory practices in various settings, including the workplace. The United States Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides some guidelines for bringing staff back, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides strategies for keeping workers safe.

Work and unemployment

No one can be forced to take a job here in the U.S. But they do need to adhere to the rules if they do choose to take the job. Even with accommodations, some may not want to return to work. Those who refuse to work may get taken off unemployment if the employer reports them to the state, which likely means an end of benefits. While employers should not weaponize this information, employers need to inform employees of the repercussions if they choose not to come back.

Disputes are likely to occur

There is much that businesses, governments and labor organizations are still working out, but it seems likely that there will be legal disputes. Companies with questions may wish to speak with an attorney who is comfortable handling this complex and evolving law area.