After more than a year living in a pandemic, many workers have grown used to working from home (WFH) and want to continue doing so, even as the country begins to edge closer to more re-openings. However, with more people getting vaccinated and Covid-19 rates decreasing in many states, some employers are pushing for their employees to return to their worksites. What happens for workers who don’t want to return? Is there a legal right to work from home?
No Legal Right to Work Remotely
When public health orders are lifted and employees are cleared to return to the workplace, employers might have operational concerns to justify a distinction between essential and noncritical workers; they have the right to determine the worksite of any of their positions. Although people have been working from home to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, the pandemic does not change any existing labor laws.
Currently, there are no U.S. labor laws granting employees the right to work from home. While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does actually guarantee paid time off for those who qualify to care for others or who have special medical conditions, it doesn’t grant you the right to work remotely. This means that whether or not you can work from home depends entirely on your employer; it is at their discretion. Even though there is no legal right to work remotely, employers can allow WFH options and flexibility for their employees as long as they maintain an accurate record of the hours worked.
Employment Contracts and Labor Agreements
Flexible working rights can be included in clauses of a worker’s employment contract. The more specific parts of these arrangements can be also agreed upon, such as the frequency of the WFH schedule, any equipment that may be provided (such as a laptop or phone), or how overtime wages are calculated. If there was no prior arrangement to work remotely, this option can be added to an existing employment contract.
Labor agreements are another way to regulate WFH arrangements for employees. The provisions can be spelled out internally between management and a staff association. Even with this, the option to work from home can never be forced and is always at the discretion of the employer.
Disability Claims and Other Options
If an employee has a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), then the employer should allow accommodations, which could include telecommuting. For employees who don’t qualify for FMLA or under the ADA, or have something in their contract or labor agreement, they must rely on whether the employer is open to employees working from home. If no provisions for remote work exists in a business or if there is only a temporary provision due to Covid-19, an employee might request the option. Even if there is no claim, many employers may be open to flexible work environments, but they aren’t legally obligated to comply and may reject WFH applications.
Discuss WFH Options with an Attorney
While working from home is not a legal right, employers can’t use it to discriminate or retaliate against any employee. If you’ve been denied a WFH option and your employer doesn’t have a legitimate business reason for the decision, you might want to explore whether you have a claim against them. You should talk to a skilled Walton Law attorney who specializes in employment and labor law for insight into this complex issue. Contact us today for assistance. We are here to talk to you.