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Can I force my employees to return to the office?

Can I force my employees to return to the office?

Over the last year most offices have been ghost towns due to COVID-19 restrictions with many office workers working from home. While we are still in the middle of a global pandemic, Australia is in the unique position where, due to our low COVID-19 numbers, most office workers are now able to return to the office. A relaxation of governmental work from home restrictions reflects this.

What can you do if employees are reluctant to come into work?

An employer generally has the legal right to direct employees who have been working from home due to COVID-19 to return to the office, especially if employees’ contracts of employment identify the office as the primary place of work.

Therefore, employees cannot refuse to return to the office provided the direction to do so is lawful and reasonable. If they do, they may be subject to disciplinary action.

As with anything else, talk to your employee if they do refuse to return to the office. Find out why they are unwilling to return. Having dialogue with your employees is important as you do not want to breach general protections and unfair dismissal obligations if you do pursue disciplinary action without further queries about their reasons for not wanting to return to the workplace.

If further queries do establish that your employee has a valid reason to not return to the office at the same time as their colleagues then you may need to make reasonable adjustments which could include allowing them to work from home for a further period.

Make sure you are compliant

As an employer you have OHS obligations to your employees, including that they work in a safe environment. Following government COVID-19 advice and directions is one such way to ensure you are complying with your obligations. Therefore make sure you are up to date with government advice and that you have the appropriate COVID-safe plans for your workplace before you direct employees to return to the office.

If you have queries about managing your workforce during COVID-19 then please contact our employment team.

This content is provided for reference only and may not be current on the date of access. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.

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