What power do employees have when it comes to return-to-office policies? The short answer is, not a lot. Here's why. Employers have the right to set their own workplace policies, including where its employees work, even if that does not seem fair. As long as employers follow guidelines promulgated by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration with regard to workplace safety, workers do not have leverage to push back and dictate where they work. The bottom line is that an employer can terminate any employee for not following its policies and procedures, including working from the office.
There are two exceptions to this general rule. If the employee can prove the return-to-office policy is discriminatory (like it only applies to men and not women), the employee will likely have a claim under the human rights law. Furthermore, there may be circumstances where an employee has a legitimate need to work remotely, due to a disabling medical condition. If that is the case, the employee should request a reasonable accommodation from the employer, which might include providing supporting documentation from the doctor in order to confirm the need for an accommodation. Unfortunately, a general fear of COVID-19 or a refusal to get vaccinated will not be enough to trigger an accommodation. The employer has a legal obligation to engage in a cooperative dialogue with the employee about the requested accommodation.