Can your employer force you to work from the office?

In recent months, there has been a trend towards the return of work to the office.

Can your employer force you to work from the office?

In recent months, there has been a trend towards the return of work to the office.

• Read also: Telework: Québec solidaire wants to regulate the right to disconnect

• Read also: The right to disconnect, here and elsewhere

• Read also: Federal civil servants will have to return to the office as of mid-January

The federal government, for example, recently decided that its employees must return to work at their offices 2 to 3 times a week no later than March 31, 2023.

Rights and obligations of employers

In fact, employers can end telecommuting and require a return to the office for all or part of the work week. This is a component of what is commonly called the right of management.

The employer also has the obligation to take the necessary measures to protect the health and physical and psychological safety of its workers. He must therefore ensure that the workplaces are safe and include the appropriate protective measures, including with regard to COVID-19.

Of course, if there is an agreement between an employer and his employee to the effect that the latter can be permanently teleworked, this agreement cannot be modified unilaterally.

Some special cases

We can also think of the rather exceptional case of a worker with a disability for whom the duty to accommodate applies.

This worker can then claim that the obligation to return to the office does not necessarily apply to him. On this subject, see our column of October 7, 2022.

Factors to consider

On the side of both employers and their workers, certain factors must be considered when the question of returning to the office arises.

On the employee side, there is obviously the flexibility that teleworking grants in everyday life. For example, there is a significant reduction in the time spent on transport, an often simplified family organization or a better adapted work environment.

On the employers' side, in addition to important productivity issues, it is believed that being in the office allows for closer collaboration between employees, better team spirit and a greater sense of belonging to the company. Referring to some studies, it will also be found that a constant presence in the office increases the opportunities for career development.

A fair balance

The return to work in the office, hybrid formula or not, requires finding the right balance between various factors, including the proper functioning of the company, the legitimate desire of employees to assert their expectations regarding their working conditions, the health status, etc.

One thing is certain. The return to the office cannot be done in a hurry, but gradually, in order to allow employees to reorganize themselves, including in their family life, especially if the period of telework has been carried out for a few years and almost full time.

Finally, the most important condition for the exercise of a successful return to the office undoubtedly lies in sustained communication between those concerned by this return.

- Me Bernard Cliche, lawyer emeritus Morency, law firm