Do I have to go back to office if my boss asks me to?

From next Monday, more people will be allowed to return to the office in the most significant easing of restrictions at workplaces since the circuit breaker was imposed in April. Here are the answers to some questions you may have about the new guidelines.

Start times for employees should be staggered such that at least half of them reach the office at or after 10am, in order to avoid crowding at the workplace. Employers should also implement flexible workplace arrangements - for instance, arranging fo
Start times for employees should be staggered such that at least half of them reach the office at or after 10am, in order to avoid crowding at the workplace. Employers should also implement flexible workplace arrangements - for instance, arranging for some employees to work from home in the morning but return to the office from 1pm to 5pm.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Q: Can my boss require me to return to the office, even if my job can be performed from home and I prefer doing so?

A: Yes. However, your employer should ensure that you are working from home for at least half your working time. This should be calculated over a "reasonable period of time" not exceeding four weeks.

If you are a part-time worker, the requirement will be pro-rated. For example, if you work three days a week, you should be in the office only 1-1/2 days a week.

Your employer should also make sure that not more than half the people who can work from home are in the office at any one time.

Q: I want to go back to the office full time because my home is not conducive for work. Can I do so?

A: As long as your job can be done from home, you should be working from home at least half the time.

Employers will need to demonstrate the business or operational reasons why staff cannot work from home, despite reviewing work processes and arrangements.

Q: Will my leave days count towards the total number of days I spend working from home?

A: Yes. For example, if you normally work a five-day week, you are allowed to go back to the office for 2-1/2 days every week. If you decide to take two days of leave that week, your boss can still require you to go back to the office for 2-1/2 days. You will then spend the remaining half day working from home.

Q: My boss wants me to go back to the office for regular meetings. Is this allowed?

A: Yes, although the Government has said that meetings should be conducted virtually as far as possible. Physical meetings between employees and suppliers or contractors should be minimised. One example of a flexible work arrangement would be for staff to go back to the office only for meetings, and work from home for the rest of the day.

Q: I have a chronic medical condition that has weakened my immune system. What should I do if I have to go back to the office?

A: Employers should pay special attention to workers who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Your employer should make arrangements such as allowing you to work from home and providing IT equipment if necessary, or temporarily redeploying you to another role within the company.

If there is no way to make alternative arrangements, your employer can still require you to return to the office. However, they must ensure that there is at least 1m of space between you and your colleagues.

This applies to people who have compromised immune systems, concurrent medical conditions, or who are aged 60 and above.

Q: Since I am going back to the office, does that mean I can interact with colleagues as usual?

Everyone should wear a mask and keep 1m apart. Meals are prohibited, and singing and other live performances are also not allowed.

Q: My employer is breaking the rules. How can I report this?

A: You can do so via the SnapSafe app, which can be found in Apple's App Store or the Google Play Store.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2020, with the headline 'Do I have to go back to office if my boss asks me to?'. Print Edition | Subscribe