Businesses should continue to allow staff to work from home, employment expert says

An employment expert is urging businesses to continue allowing Kiwis the option of working from home. 

As life starts to get back to normal, many businesses are starting to ask employees to get back into the office after the COVID-19 pandemic forced many to work from home. 

One business doing this is technology giant Apple which said employees should return to the office three days a week from September 5.

Apple's chief executive Tim Cook told employees the move would help preserve the "in-person collaboration that is so essential to our culture".

But Apple staff are fighting back and have launched a petition demanding "location flexible work", saying work arrangements should be between a worker and their "immediate manager".

Employment law expert Jennifer Mills was asked by AM co-host Ryan Bridge if an employee's boss asks staff to come back to the office, do they have to follow the order?

"An employer can't demand employees to return, so an employer can request employees post the pandemic, 'we'd like you to come back,'" Mills told AM on Wednesday. 

"Employers need to make sure that their existing employment agreements and policies are consistent with that. So some have already introduced a hybrid working arrangement and if they say to employees, 'we'd like you now to come back', that would be inconsistent with the policies." 

Mills urges businesses to consult with employees and listen to their feedback to make the best decision for the company. 

"Many employees are now saying to employers, 'there is a new normal. We have worked from home for so many years, it seems to be running pretty well, we'd like to continue to do that, at least under some sort of hybrid model,'" she told AM. 

"My advice to employers in that regard is more practical because we've got labour shortages in a number of industries, and it's really hard to retain that top talent. Employers might wish to consider whether they can accommodate to some extent, employees' desire to have more balance and I do think when it works, it can be great for both parties." 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic took over the world, working from home wasn't something many people did and lots of contracts specified you had to work from the office. 

Mills said an express term in a contract will always override a practice for a period of time. 

"The reality is that if it's working effectively, it's going to be difficult to demand employees to return and that's where we're seeing the resistance from some workers," she said. 

"So that's why I say yes, you can have all the express terms in your employment agreement, but the reality is, if it's working, there needs to be some reasonable accommodation." 

Watch the full interview with Jennifer Mills above.