Many businesses have opted to allow their employees to work from home or have put staff members on furlough during the past fifteen months, due to the ongoing pandemic and adhering to government advice. For many people this has become the new normal and remote working and hybrid working are more popular than ever before. However, some businesses either cannot or do not want to embrace this new outlook on working, and therefore are requesting that their employees return to the office. Some aspects of working practices have suffered during these times, such as virtual training and supervision of employees causing employers to want to return to pre-pandemic routines and procedures. Overall, as long as government advice is followed, and your workplace is Covid-secure there is no reason why employees can’t be introduced back to the office.
There is no definitive answer on how to deal with employees who refuse to return to work, as the approach you should take will depend on the individual circumstances. Communication is key and employees may feel that they have a valid reason as to why they cannot return to the office, as an employer you have a duty to act fairly and reasonably when dealing with these types of issues. For example, although the government has advised that those who are clinically extremely vulnerable no longer need to shield, they are still being advised to work from home where possible.
If it is reasonable to require an employee to return if they have provided no reasons for their refusal and they do not have any protected characteristics which could lead to a discrimination claim, such being disabled or pregnant, in these cases you may be able to invoke the disciplinary procedure if they will not return to work in any capacity.
If you are unsure as to whether reasons provided by employees are valid, you must seek professional HR advice to avoid potential claims being brought against your business.