What to do if your employee refuses to return to work

At long last, we can see signs of normality returning.  We can go back to shops, restaurants and even football stadiums.  Employers are reopening their workplaces.  However, what can you do if your employee refuses to return?  It’s a question I am increasingly being asked.

For many businesses, long-term or indefinite homeworking may not be sustainable.  Equally, some employees cannot wait to escape working from their bedrooms.  For many, “going to work” has taken on a completely different meaning over the last 18 months.  While some welcome getting back to the office, others have no wish to do so.

Consider why your employee refuses to return

Covid-19 has had such a big impact across the globe and has affected people in different ways. The first thing to consider is why your employee refuses to return to the workplace. This could be one of many reasons including:


  • Anxieties around catching Covid-19 in the workplace.
  • The employee or someone they live with is considered clinically vulnerable.
  • They want to be fully vaccinated before returning to the workplace.
  • Their personal circumstances have changed.  Office working is no longer suitable for them.
  • The luxury of no travel. I don’t think anyone has missed the rush hour.
  • Change! They simply enjoy working from home and don’t see why they need to go back.


Understanding why your employee refuses to return is a key first step.  Push too hard and you may lose a valued employee.  Work together to understand and address their concerns, you may find you have a more engaged employee, moving forward.  Proceed with caution, sensitively and flexibly where possible.


What are the business requirements?

From a business perspective, it’s important to consider the needs of the business. Does home working have a negative impact on the business? Could the business make it work? Given the current circumstances, send your employees a questionnaire to gather their input to help your decision making going forward.

Once you have established the business needs, consider the individual needs of those who are refusing to return. What are their reasons and how can you support them? Could you meet in the middle with partial home working or a temporary solution and a phased return to work?


What does the legislation say?

If you have considered the above with no signs of progressing the conversation further, you can suggest the employee submits a flexible working request.  As with all flexible working requests, this should be considered in a reasonable manner and can only be refused, if you can demonstrate one of the eight reasons below:


  • Extra costs that will damage the business.
  • The work cannot be reorganised among other staff.
  • People cannot be recruited to do the work.
  • Flexible working will affect quality and performance.
  • The business will not be able to meet customer demand.
  • There’s a lack of work to do during the proposed working times.
  • The business is planning changes to the workforce.


Being flexible, understanding and supportive may help you and your employee to reach the balance you need.  However, if you cannot reach a position that works for the business and your employee still refuses to return to the workplace, please contact me.

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