Yes, your boss can give you a return to work or the workplace direction

By Stephen Arulogun

This is a warning to office workers that your bosses can compel you to show up at the office even in the face of surging COVID-19 cases.

The widespread transmission of COVID-19 and influenza cases is leading to a spike in personal leave being taken by employees nationwide. However, in the absence of Government directives, the decision to work from home is solely within your employer’s discretion.

Most standard employment contracts provide that workers must work from the employer’s place of business, or other location directed by the employer, and follow all lawful and reasonable directions of their employer.

Over 94% of Australians aged 12 years and over have now had at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. The current Government directives on COVID-19 are minimal. Therefore a direction by your employer to return-to-office is quite likely to be lawful and reasonable.

Employees who resist employers’ directions to return to the office may well be refusing to comply with a lawful and reasonable direction of their employer and are potentially opening themselves up to disciplinary action, which includes suspension or dismissal from employment.

While employers can compel their workers to attend the workplace in most circumstances, they are required to consider each employee’s circumstances, including their duties and the associated risks associated with their work. Employers should review their employees’ situation on a case by case basis. For example, it may be unreasonable and unlawful for an employer to direct an employee to return to the office where an employee is immunocompromised or has an underlying health condition.

On the whole, the best solutions will be a ‘carrot’ rather than a ‘stick’ approach that can accommodate workers by providing a hybrid solution.