In light of Elon Musk ending home working as revealed today, Georgina Calvert-Lee, senior consultant and barrister at Bellevue Lawc comments:
“Elon Musk is not the only employer whose knee jerk reaction to a financial crunch is to demand that all their employees return to the office with immediate effect. It is odd to think that presentee-ism improves productivity, but some bosses seem to think it does and, at any rate, the sense of control they feel probably helps them sleep at night.Generally, bosses can organise the workplace how they see fit, whether or not others see any business sense in it. Most employment contracts allow a company to determine where an employee works, within reason, and this is set out in their Terms of Employment. Imposing a policy that everyone goes back to pre-pandemic working practices, in line with their contracts, is within Mr Musk’s rights. However, in imposing a new policy to require staff to abide by their contractual place of work, Twitter will have to be careful not to indirectly discriminate against those for whom a five-day office schedule may pose particular difficulties. Working mothers or those with some disabilities may have a claim for indirect discrimination arising from this policy. The company should consider individual requests for flexi-work, and grant it where appropriate. I would task this with HR rather than the owner, though.
If an employment contract states that an employee is home-based, however, the employer would need to vary the contract if they wanted them to work from the office. To vary the contract, the employer needs the employee’s agreement, and if the employee won’t give it, then the employer either must give in or fire the employee and offer to re-hire them on new terms. There are some expenses involved, of course, and you may lose your fired employee.”