There are so many advantages of working together in an office.
In person meetings without tech glitches.
Separation of work and life (and getting out of the house!).
More structured workday.
Bonding with and learning from co-workers.
Regardless of the proven advantages or COVID safety precautions instituted, some employees are still refusing to return to the office (RTO). As an employer, RTO can be an emotional topic for your team. Let’s look at several scenarios we’ve been encountering lately and things that need to be considered to protect your company.
Employee refusing to return to the office after remote work
We’ve all heard from employees who love working from home. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it works for your organization. If employees are refusing RTO, you need to determine if it’s a preference, COVID fears or if there is a legally defensible reason. This isn’t an easy task because you could inadvertently trigger discrimination or retaliation claims. You need to carefully consider all factors.
- Have you instituted safety measures and published COVID policies to properly protect your employees?
- Does your employee have an underlying medical condition that makes them more susceptible to COVID-19?
- Is your employee living with someone who is at high risk for contracting COVID-19.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission legally require accommodations for certain situations, so it’s critical you understand those requirements. If you make a discretionary telework exception or grant a leave of absence for an employee, others will ask for the same privilege. Granting and denying these requests can potentially expose your organization to claims of disparate treatment, with employees who belong in different protected classes.
Employee chooses to keep their child at home instead of returning to work
In protecting their child from COVID, some parents are keeping kids at home instead of sending them to daycare or school. Some make that deliberate choice, but other times it’s because they don’t have childcare options. There are 20,000 child-care centers that closed during the pandemic. Just because your organization wants everyone back in the office, doesn’t necessarily mean that can happen for some.
During work from home, caregiving responsibilities were highly visible with unexpected onscreen appearances of kids, dogs barking and more. While funny in the moment, this can trigger biases against caregivers that lead to family responsibilities discrimination (FRD). At least 195 state and local jurisdictions have enacted laws outlawing discrimination against parents, protecting nearly 50 million employees.1 These biases can be compounded by racial and ethnic biases triggering discrimination claims. Review your organization’s supervisor training, personnel policies, caregiver supports, HR oversight and complaint procedures to prevent a costly FRD claim.
Employee refuses to return to work after COVID lay-off
You made the difficult decision to lay-off employees during the pandemic, but business is picking up and you’ve asked them to return. What happens when they refuse and continue to collect unemployment insurance benefits?
- First, you must have offered “suitable work” based on rate of pay, location, job duties, work schedule and other job conditions.
- Next, make sure you are following federal, state, county and local laws, guidelines and best practices for COVID-19. Share with them all the safety measures and documented COVID-19 policies your organization has instituted to keep employees safe.
- Discuss potential accommodations for vulnerable employees.
If they still refuse to return, notify them that you will be reporting their refusal to the state unemployment agency and your organization will contest their claim. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) ended on September 6, so unemployment benefits will no longer include the extra $300. The hope is employees will be more willing to return to work.
MidwestHR is a leading CPEO in Illinois (certified professional employer organization). Our clients rely on us to manage their HR functions including payroll and tax administration, benefits management, workers’ compensation, risk management and more. During the pandemic, we have also guided clients with everything from applying for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to best practices for returning to the office. Whether it’s HR policies or COVID safety measures, we are here for our clients. Give us a call at 630-836-3000 to learn more.