Workers in Ontario can be fired if they refuse return to office, employment lawyer says

TORONTO — During the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees working from home enjoy the flexibility to set their own hours, avoid commutes and spend more time with their children.

But as more workers get vaccinated, some companies are preparing to get them back to the office and one employment lawyer says you can be fired if you don’t return.

“I think a lot of employers can’t wait to get people back to the office because as much as employees are loving it, employers are not loving it quite so much,” said Howard Levitt, employment lawyer and senior partner with Levitt, Sheikh, Chaudhri and Swann law firm.

As the pandemic enters its second year, there have been dramatic changes in the workplace. Many office buildings sit empty and some workers have left urban centers to work remotely at cottages or in small towns.

A work-from-home survey by staffing agency, Robert Half, found that 33 per cent of employees working from home said they would quit their job if they were forced to return to the office full time.

Levitt said many companies want employees back in the office due to a drop in productivity.

“There isn’t the same buzz that makes you enthusiastic about your job when you are working in your pajamas at your house,” Levitt said.

While some workers may want to continue to work remotely, Levitt says employers can decide who works from home and who doesn’t.

“Employers could say you’ve proven you can work effectively outside the office, so you can continue to work from home, but they can say to another employee you haven’t, so you have to work from the office,” Levitt said.

The survey also found that 51 per cent of workers would prefer a hybrid approach with a split working both at home and the office.

Levitt said companies that have used work-from-home models in the past abandoned the approach after trying it.

“The former CEO of Twitter said when they had a work from home experiment, two years ago, he felt one person working at home was too many. I think some companies might have a hybrid model, but most won’t,” Levitt said.

He also cautions that remote work can also set a dangerous precedent.

“If everybody can work from home, why hire a $100,000 Canadian when you can hire someone from the Philippines for $20,000 who speaks perfect English or somewhere else?”

Levitt believes many companies will try to get workers back to the office as soon as it’s safe to do so.

The survey also found many people like working at home because they’re saving money not driving to work, paying for childcare and spending on clothing they would normally buy for the workplace.

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