5 Things Your Boss Can (and Can’t) Make You Do When Your Office Reopens

Woman on bus with mask on


Profile Picture
April 19, 2024 at 2:5AM UTC
This article was updated on May 14, 2021.
With non-essential workplaces already open in some areas — and inevitably reopening in others — we're beefing up our current uncertainty with a new, hard question: What are my rights as a worker in 2021? 
While employment terms may be up in the air in many cases, there are a few new insights into what your employer can and can't ask you to do in the new workplace. We broke down some of the most common questions. 

Oh, and as a disclaimer, just because someone can do something doesn't mean they should. Food for thought. 

1. Your employer can make you come into work in most cases, even if you're afraid.

Unfortunately, being nervous or burn out isn't a legally protected reason to refuse to come into work, according to an attorney who spoke to the Wall Street Journal. If you don't show up, you can be considered insubordinate or terminated. However, there are other reasons your employer may allow you to continue to work from home, even when staffing restrictions are lifted. 
If you have an underlying health condition that makes you vulnerable to COVID-19 and is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you may be able to ask to continue to work from home as a reasonable accommodation. This is especially true if you are not able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Similarly, if you have a mental health disability that's protected by the ADA, such as anxiety, and you feel returning to work will cause you to panic, you may be able to ask to continue to work from home as a reasonable accommodation. 
Ultimately, these accommodations are made on a per-case basis between employee and employer. Of course, even if you don't have protections under the ADA, you can still make a case for telecommuting. However, your employer doesn't need to grant it. 

2. Your employer can make you break social distancing recommendations.

Center for Disease Control guidelines — and similar guidelines set by federal or state officials — aren't enforceable. So, your boss can ask you to enter a tight meeting room, come into contact with unmasked clients, get on a crowded bus or do similar tasks. 

3. Your employer can take your temperature at work. 

According to a statement by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2020, taking an employee's temperature is generally considered a medical examination, making them prohibited under ADA "unless they are job-related and consistent with business necessity." Because of the established community spread of COVID-19, "employers may measure employees' body temperature," at least for the time being. However, employers should be aware that some people with COVID-19 do not have a fever, the EEOC stated. If you have a fever, your employer can ask you to go home. 

4. Your employer can require you to get the COVID vaccine, in most cases. 

Employers can require you to show proof of the COVID vaccine, as asking for vaccine history is not considered a medical examination. However, employees may be entitled to exemptions from a vaccine requirement based on their ADA-protected disability or religious beliefs. If there is a case for exemption,  Dorit Reiss, a law professor at the University of California — Hastings, says employers might require a “reasonable alternative" to being vaccinated. For example, they might require employees who haven’t been vaccinated to wear a mask or work from home.

5. Your employer can't fire you for reporting them.

Retaliation against whistleblowers is illegal! If you are fired after filing a ADA complaint or health and safety report to a government agency — or after raising concerns about your workplace safety to your superiors — you may want to consider finding legal representation. 
This information does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; this article is for general informational purposes only.  

Why women love us:

  • Daily articles on career topics
  • Jobs at companies dedicated to hiring more women
  • Advice and support from an authentic community
  • Events that help you level up in your career
  • Free membership, always