Answer In Brief: No, you can’t be forced to work from home unless you were contracted to work from home. However, an employer is within their rights to make you redundant or to fire you (depending on local labor law) if you will not agree to a contract amendment and they deem this change to remote work to be essential.
Most office workers wish that they had this problem but some are not happy when an employer wants to force them into working remotely.
They didn’t sign up for working from home and they don’t want to work remotely, they’d prefer to continue to work on the company premises.
But can an employer force you to work from home?
The Covid-19 Pandemic And Health And Safety
During the course of the Covid-19 outbreaks, it was considered an employer’s right to send the workforce home in order to maintain their health and safety.
Thus, working from home became something of a “new normal” and now that the Covid-19 pandemic is under control, some employers want to continue the arrangement with some employees working from home permanently.
Does This Mean That Employees Must Leave Their Work Environment And Work At Home?
Your employer has the right to ask you to agree to any terms of work that they wish.
And the truth is that many employees will jump at the chance to make remote work a permanent gig following the pandemic.
However, unless your employment contract specifies that you can be compelled to undertake remote, hybrid, or flexible work, the employer needs to consult with the employees and try and agree on a change in your contract.
If you or other employees wish to pursue this conversation with your employer, you should expect to be consulted on and negotiate over a range of issues including:
- Risk assessments – workers can expect their employers to deliver a safe place of work and that means the employer may need to carry out appropriate risk assessments to ensure your home office is as safe as the office you work in now.
- Pay and hours – your pay may need to be adjusted to reflect the lower costs of working out of the office and it may be that your employer offers more flexible hours to accommodate work patterns that better fit with your home life.
- Corporate policy – your employer should be looking to ensure you get all the same level of support as you did in the office (in terms of learning, career development, management, etc.) and to hold you to the same standards as an employee working on-site and that usually means changing policy to suit.
- Reasonable expenses – the employee ought to look to employers to pay for their office furniture, computer equipment, etc. and to offer some sort of maintenance allowance for this equipment on an ongoing basis. It is worth noting that if an employer doesn’t offer expenses of this kind and still tries to force you to go home and work, they may be breaching the duty of “trust and confidence” by failing to provide you with the equipment you need to do the job.
Can The Employer Force You To Accept The Change?
No, but given that the majority of American employees are considered to be “at-will” employees, an employer can easily terminate your employment contract if you do not agree.
Even if the individual is not “at will”, if the employer can make the case that this change in working is essential to the business, they could make the position you hold redundant and then rehire to fill the job with someone willing to work from home.
It’s best to try and negotiate a compromise in most cases, rather than try to stick to your guns and get nothing.
We don’t believe this is going to become a major issue, given the glut of workers in the market that want this kind of position and the large number of employers that wish people would return to the office – we think people will naturally drift to positions that suit them.
However, while, in theory, you cannot be compelled to accept a remote work position in exchange for your current job, the reality is that an employer can relatively easily require you to do so and there’s not much you can do about it.