Lawyers called in to force workers back into the office

BOSSES are hiring lawyers to force stay-at-home staff back to the office, as COVID-19 lockdowns trigger a work-life rebellion among stressed-out Queenslanders craving a better work-life balance.

Queensland Chamber of Commerce and Industry industrial relations specialist Michael O'Brien said bosses were experiencing "a range of difficulties in having staff return to their normal place of work''.

"Employees with mental health (issues) are resisting returning to the workplace as they find it easier to cope from home,'' he told The Courier-Mail yesterday.

"Employees with caring responsibilities for children, elderly parents or a sick partner have found working at home easier.

"And some who were experiencing difficulties in the workplace, like performance or a poor relationship with their manager, are resisting returning.''

Brisbane-based legal firm HR Law revealed it is advising bosses about their "rights and obligations'' to get staff back to work.

Director Jill Hignett warned that staff who refuse to return to the workplace could be disciplined or even sacked for "refusing to follow an employer's lawful direction.''

She said bosses could stop paying workers who refuse to go back to work, unless they are taking authorised holidays or sick leave.

"An employer has the lawful right to direct employees to return to work, provided it is safe to do,'' she said.

"There have been some employees who are refusing to return to work.

"An employer may have the right to terminate an employee if there is a continued, unfounded reason why the employee refuses to return to the workplace.

"Employees need to be aware that they can't simply claim they feel unsafe and therefore will not be returning to the workplace.''

An exclusive YouGov survey reveals that 28 per cent of Queensland workers have been working from home at least part of the time since COVID-19 lockdowns in March.

Bond University's assistant professor of organizational behavior, Dr Libby Sander, said employers were having to redesign jobs in the wake of COVID-19 lockdowns.

"Now that the genie's out of the bottle, and people know they can work from home and be productive, they don't want to go back to the office for the sake of it,'' she said.

"They've loved the autonomy of being able to work from home and not spend hours in traffic, and people won't give that up easily.''

Ms Hignett said workers must provide "valid and credible evidence'', such as medical certificates, to show it would be unsafe to return to work.

She said some workers were refusing to go back to the office due to their own poor health, or if they live with a person vulnerable to COVID-19.

"Concerns such as these are valid concerns and need to be dealt with by the employer on an individual basis,'' she said.

"We have also seen some employees now making a claim for flexible conditions - the right to work from home - on the basis that operationally it worked during COVID-19 restrictions so why can't it be implemented on a permanent basis.

"This is certainly a question employees will need to answer.''


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