- posted: Nov. 30, 2022
For more than two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has led businesses nationwide to make remote employment the norm. But with mask mandates and other restrictions being eased, many companies are moving ahead toward restoring onsite operations. This means calling their staffs back to the office and curtailing the work-from-home option. In so doing, they are encountering resistance from a significant percentage of workers who have gotten accustomed to the advantages of working remotely, such as spending less on gas, tolls and train fare and spending more time with family. Do those employees have any leverage to avoid a return to office?
Flexibility will be a key consideration as employers move forward with resumption of in-office operations. It’s noteworthy that in response to pushback by employees, many companies that made announcements declaring a full return to the workplace later softened their stances, either delaying the return date or permitting workers to assume a hybrid schedule.
In many industries, there are certain tasks that simply cannot be accomplished remotely. Employers also point to things like mentoring, team spirit and accessibility as important values that are missing when the workforce is not centralized in a physical plant. However, workers can point to studies that indicate no great difference in productivity between the traditional worker and a home-based one.
There is little doubt that if an employer wants to play hardball, the average employee would have no choice but to comply with the company’s edict or face disciplinary action, which could include termination. But with unemployment low and fewer people looking for work, it may serve companies better to be willing to listen to what the worker is saying and entertain ways to compromise. After all, the most expensive item for a business is the cost to attract, train and maintain a quality staff.
In addition, employers must guard against enforcing return to work policies in ways that could be noncompliant with state or federal law. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with physical or mental disabilities. If remote employment allows a worker to perform essential job functions without causing the employer an undue burden, a mandatory return to the office could be challenged as discriminatory.
If you are facing a demand to return to the office after a period of working remotely, an experienced labor and employment attorney can analyze your situation to see whether the employer’s policy might be infringing on any of your legal rights and/or whether a resolution can be found.
At Cashdan & Kane, PLLC, we represent New Jersey workers in varied employment matters, including defense against adverse employer actions. We will listen to your side of things and determine if you have legal recourse. Contact us online, or call 908-264-9331 to arrange a consultation at our Westfield office or our other locations in the state.