Can Employees Refuse to Return to Office

With Vaccine & Mask Mandates Being Removed, Can Employees Refuse to Return to Office?

Many employees have been required to work remotely over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of March 21, 2022, the Ontario government has lifted its mandatory mask requirements for most workplaces. The removal of mask mandates comes a few weeks after the Ontario government also removed mandatory vaccination requirements in many public settings. The lifting of restrictions has left many wondering what that means with regards to their remote working arrangements and if they would be called back into the office. So, now the question arises – can employees refuse to return to office?

Employers have an obligation under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act to provide a healthy and safe work environment for their employees, and to take all reasonable measures to achieve those goals. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, this meant many employers were requiring or allowing employees to work remotely to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmissions in the workplace. As the COVID-19 restrictions loosen, and case numbers decline, employers are beginning to ask employees to return to the workplace.

Many employees have become comfortable working remotely from their own homes and may not wish to return to the workplace.  Whether an employee can refuse to return to in-office work depends on two main factors. Firstly, a careful reading of the employee’s employment agreement can illustrate if the employee has a right to work remotely. And secondly, an analysis of whether the employer’s workplace is safe for the employee to return to work.

Generally, employees that previously worked in the office will be required to return to in-office work if recalled by their employer.  There will be some exceptions to this in specific circumstances, such as employees requiring accommodations for medical needs or child care responsibilities.  Employees that refuse to return to the workplace could face dismissal or could be deemed to have abandoned their jobs.  Employees should think carefully before refusing to return to the office or risk losing their job altogether.

If you are an employee and are unsure about your legal rights to continue working remotely, planning to refuse to return to the office; or an employer looking for assistance in directing return to work efforts, we encourage you to seek legal advice to better understand your rights and obligations. We at Whitten & Lublin are happy to provide insight and advice into your specific circumstances. If you are looking for employment lawyers and would like more information about what Whitten & Lublin can do for you, please contact us online or by phone at (416) 640-2667 today.