Why your options may be limited if your employer wants you back to work

The pandemic need to do your job outside the workplace is ending as restrictions and mandates ease and employers refocus on getting people back to work in person.

While employers can end temporary measures, they should also consider how the work environment has changed since COVID-19 took hold in early 2020, as flexible arrangements have proven possible and how employees may feel about returning to work in person. , say experts in Canada.

“Employees have proven — at least in their own minds — that they’re just as productive, if not more productive, when working from home,” said Janet Candido, a Toronto-based human resources (HR) consultant.

“So that’s where the repression is.”

Chords are chords

Nadia Zaman, an employment lawyer at Rudner Law in Markham, Ont., said she and her colleagues have answered a growing number of questions about returning to work in recent months.

Labor lawyer Nadia Zaman says that, generally, “employees don’t have the right to choose where they do their jobs unless they already had that right” before the pandemic. (Submitted by Nadia Zaman)

“Employers can generally dictate whether the employee can work from home or must return to the office — either fully or on a hybrid model — unless otherwise agreed,” Zaman said in an interview.

There are a few exceptions, mostly limited to legitimate hosting needs or practical security concerns.

But Zaman said “employees don’t have the right to choose where they work unless they already had that right” before the pandemic.

A changing world of work

The extended time employees have spent working from home is part of a larger change.

Matthew Fisher, an employment lawyer and partner at Toronto-based Lecker & Associates, said many employees have learned “there can be a different way, there can be flexibility, ‘there may be remote work’.

WATCH | What will a return to work look like? :

The uncertain future of work for Canadians

Nita Chhinzer, associate professor of human resources and business counseling at the University of Guelph and Matthew Fisher, labor lawyer with Lecker and Associates Law, join Canada Tonight host Ginella Massa to talk of how the pandemic has caused work culture change and what the future of work might look like.

He predicts that some employees will point to the success of alternative arrangements when employers ask them to return to work in person – and this may be part of possible legal challenges alleging constructive dismissal, when an employee feels compelled to leave the job. due to job requirements.

In an interview with CBC canada tonightFisher said employees can tell their bosses, “You’ve severed a very fundamental aspect of our working relationship that I’m doing my best, but I have a level of flexibility that allows me to work remotely.”

Zaman said that’s more likely to happen as such arrangements continue, particularly if the employer hasn’t made it clear that alternative work arrangements are temporary.

“One way for employers to ensure they are protecting themselves…is to clearly communicate to employees that remote work is only continuing on an interim basis due to the pandemic and its aftermath, and that workers will have to come back to the office at some point,” Zaman said.

Candido, founder and director of an HR consulting group, said she advises clients to make sure this message is repeated “a few times a year,” for the very reason Zaman explained.

Persuasion can help

Beyond any legal context, employers have reasons to tell employees about their plans, if only to make it clear that changes are coming, experts said.

Winny Shen of York University’s Schulich School of Business encourages organizations to tell employees why they want them back in the office, even if that’s not what some of them want to hear. (Submitted by Winny Shen)

Winny Shen, associate professor of organizational studies at York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto, recommends that organizations explain to staff why workplace demands are changing.

“I think sometimes organizations just say, ‘We want everyone back in the office’, but they’re not very explicit about why…they think it’s a dire need or maybe who, according to them, really must be back in the office. “

This communication also gives employees the opportunity to evaluate the information and possibly provide feedback, which could include employees pointing out “some of the things the organization hasn’t thought of.”

Turn to negotiation

Where there are gaps between what employees want and what their employers require, both sides should consider what’s possible under the circumstances, Candido said.

WATCH | Need for flexibility, even when returning to the office:

Workers want flexibility with return-to-work plans

With the easing of pandemic restrictions across Canada, businesses are preparing to welcome employees back to the office. But many are pushing back and asking for flexible working arrangements, while others are eager to get back to the office.

“Don’t draw a line in the sand – just try to negotiate,” Candido said. For example, employees may bring up the idea of ​​making it easier for them to return to the workplace, she said, and employers should make it a point to listen to them.

“Employers shouldn’t dismiss employee concerns and likely won’t if presented in a more cooperative manner.”

Staff retention is also a consideration when employers make long-term work arrangement decisions, experts said.

David Kraichy, an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s Edwards School of Business, said employers who continue to offer flexible work plans may find it easier to recruit talent.

Employees who disagree with their current employer’s return-to-work plan “might be more eager to look elsewhere,” Kraichy said.