Amazon’s CEO, Andy Jassy, has mandated all workers return to the office at least three times per week, as of May 1, 2023. Like many leaders mandating various degrees of office return, he has cited culture as a big factor in Amazon’s decision. Factors that go into culture include the ability for more senior employees to answer ad hoc questions, and the ability for leaders to gauge their teams’ reactions to their leadership and make adjustments as necessary. Andy also states that innovation and brainstorming are easier in-person, because serendipity is harder to foster in a virtual environment. These are certainly fair points, especially considering Andy cites Amazon’s culture as critical to its success.
What are the legal implications of asking employees to return to the office?
Many are asking what the legal framework is around this issue. Is it legally sound for employers to call employees back to the office after two or three years of remote work, and if so, on what basis? The longer an employer allows employees to work from home, the more likely it is that remote working becomes a term of their employment agreement, requiring fresh consideration (i.e., a bonus or another benefit for the employee) or consent to be amended. Employers may want to consider this information when determining if it makes sense to mandate a full-time return to the office, or when deciding on what kind of hybrid work model to implement.
What should employees consider when asked to return to the office?
Every employee will need to assess if there is a legitimate reason for them to refuse returning to the office, on a part- or full-time basis. First, if their contract holds them to a commitment to work from the office on a specific basis, they will likely be held to that. Second, whether the workplace is safe to return to will be important. In many cases, returning to the office now appears to be safe. Third, if an employee requires accommodations for medical needs or childcare responsibilities, this can be a legitimate reason to refuse a return to the office. However, employees should think carefully before refusing to return to the office or risk being accused of job abandonment.
If you are an employee considering what to do about being asked to return to the office, or an employer considering what type of return to the office will work best, we recommend that you seek legal counsel to better understand your rights and risks of the situation. 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 (647) 946-1278 today.
Author – Carson Healey