Returning back to the office – going back to normal or is this the beginning of new inconveniences

If the past two years the talk has mainly been about remote working due to the pandemics situation, the most recent theme has been about employees returning to the office. This transition may not always go so smoothly, especially in cases where some employees do not want to leave their home offices – even if the office workplace is still to be considered safe from a pandemic perspective. 

What can we as employers do in this case? A careful, thoughtful and proactive approach is much needed. 

As a manager or employer, it is important to ask yourself some questions first and be able to answer them yourself. What are our legal obligations and what are the legal obligations of our employees?

What does our company need and what makes sense for our office or our organisation? 

Only then can you start to think about how to actually do this and how to get staff back into the offices in a calm and meaningful way. 

Can an employee be fired?

One of the biggest questions that arises is whether employees who refuse to return to the office can be dismissed. The answer is yes, but it depends on the contractual agreement between the employer and the employee. Unless other arrangements have been agreed for example, partial remote work or some other solution, the employer may consider prolonged and unauthorized work from home unauthorized absence, which may be grounds for dismissal. If you are unsure about the content and other legal restrictions related to your specific employment model and contracts, it is best to contact a lawyer who will be able to advise you on your specific case. 

How to avoid getting fired / firing your employees?

Although dismissal is sometimes unavoidable, managers do not want to lose good employees simply because of a disagreement over the location of the work. It is therefore best to approach this in a structured way and to communicate a lot with your employees.

If you really want someone to come back to the office, you need to let them know that you expect them there by a certain date. “Today-to-tomorrow” instructions are usually not well received. As a manager, you have to bear in mind that working remotely was a process that employees had to get used to, just as returning to the office has to be a process. During their time working remotely, employees have developed new patterns of life that they now need to rethink and adapt to working in the office. Give them time.

Also make it clear to them what the consequences will be if they do not return to the office. Take a little more time to explain why their return to the office is necessary. If you see the potential for flexible working (e.g. working from the office 3 days a week, working remotely 2 days a week), you should also present this option to them, and any consequences that may arise (e.g. different pay or change to other benefits). Let these be negotiations, not instructions. 

Give your employees the opportunity to present their ideal scenario to you. Then work together to see what can and cannot be done and find solutions together. Be prepared and know where you, as the employer, can make concessions and where there is no room for negotiation. This will let your employee know that you are ready to stand up to them. And when you make a new agreement, make sure you draw up a new contract or an addendum to the existing one. 

While you can ask your employees to do their job in the way that is best for the company, you should never lose sight of how your demands will affect morale. At the end of the day, a good employee is a happy employee. Only someone who is happy in their job will be able to do their job successfully and will not want to leave. That’s why it’s also important to make it clear as a manager that working from home is not a right, but a benefit offered by the employer. 

Although different working arrangements for different employees are not legally controversial, you may find that allowing some employees to work from home may cause resentment or envy among the employees. That`s why you can use remote work as another bargaining chip and offer it as a bonus.