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Is it legal to fire an employee for refusing to return to the office?

In general, workers need to do the work that their employer requires to keep their job. If a worker does not want to return to the office after being called back to work, then there might not be any option but to let them go. But, keep in mind that employees with disabilities may request remote work as a reasonable accommodation, and in some situations, employers may need to allow it.

Because of lingering uncertainty, employers should generally be cautious about terminating employees under these circumstances. Speaking with an attorney, as well as asking the employee why they are uncomfortable returning to the office, should occur before taking any disciplinary action.

Can employers legally offer incentives for employees to come back to the workplace?

Generally, yes. Incentives might come in the form of bonuses, raises, additional paid leave, catered lunches, gift cards, or other perks. However, employers should take care to make sure any incentive program is thoughtfully prepared and does not harm the morale of workers who cannot return to the office, or discriminate against workers with a reasonable accommodation to work remotely. 

Additionally, incentives for employees to get vaccinated need to be carefully tailored so that employees do not feel coerced into disclosing medical information to get the incentive, as that may violate federal law. 

Can employers require employees who relocated during shelter in place to relocate back?

Yes, employers can require those who relocated during shelter in place orders to relocate back to the office. However, employers should realize that even in these situations, disability accommodations and other issues may still arise. If a Work from Home Policy or Employment Contract addresses remote work, employers should consult those documents first.

Many employees have thrived while working remotely, and many don’t want to return to the office at all. If working remotely has been effective and employee retention is a concern, it may be smart for employers to continue allowing remote work.

When do employers have to pay relocation costs?

In general, no state or federal law requires employers to pay relocation costs, but there may be some exceptions due to the terms of an Employment Contract or Employee Handbook. Typically, relocation costs are only required when a contract with an employee requires covering these costs. Usually, employers only provide relocation costs as part of a job offer that requires an employee to relocate. However, depending on the terms of employment, an employer may need to pay those costs when ending a remote work policy and an employee must relocate. 

It is worth noting that when the labor market is tight, paying relocation costs, even when not required to, could be cheaper and easier than hiring and training a replacement. 

When should an employee who is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 return to work?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that those who show COVID-19 symptoms should not return to work until at least 10 days have passed since the onset of symptoms. They should also be fever-free for at least 24 hours and their other symptoms need to show improvement. For those with severe illness or compromised immune systems, the waiting period may be up to 20 days.

Employers can monitor and exclude employees from the workplace if they show symptoms.

Is it legal to require vaccination to return to the office?

The federal government, despite having strict requirements for federal employees, does not mandate that individuals receive the COVID-19 vaccination before returning to work. However, federal, state and local laws do generally permit private employers to require a vaccination to be in the office, though there are limits and exceptions to be aware of. 

Guidance issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sets out that employers may require workers to get the COVID-19 vaccination. There are some exceptions for those who cannot get the vaccine because of an underlying health condition or for a religious reason. Those employees may be asked to complete a Vaccine Exemption Form.

In general, employers should have a health or safety purpose to require the vaccination, such as employees working in close proximity together or if they interact with customers in person.

If you still have questions about COVID-19 legal issues, check out the COVID-19 Legal Center, or contact a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.


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