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Reader question: Do I have to go back to the office as France reopens?

Reader question: Do I have to go back to the office as France reopens?
Illustration photo: Loic Venance/AFP
Working from home has been the rule for many months, but what happens now for office workers as France continues its reopening plan?

Question: I’ve been working from home more or less continually for a year now and I’ve got to like it – I get more done than I did before and I only have to get fully dressed and wear a bra for Zoom meetings. Once the government ends the recommendation for everyone to work from home am I legally obliged to go back to the office?

Wednesday, June 9th, marks phase 3 of the reopening plan and – among many other things – the government ends its official recommendation for 100 percent remote working for those who can.

But what this means for the day-to-day life of remote-working employers depends more on their boss than what the government says.

The 100 percent télétravail (remote working) was only ever a recommendation and plenty of people worked at least some days in their workplace right through the pandemic. Furthermore, the government protocol contained an exemption for people whose mental health was being adversely affected by 100 percent remote working to go into the office for one day a week.

Although the 100 percent recommendation is no longer in force, the government is not suggesting a full-time return either, more of a phased return to the workplace to allow for as much social distancing as possible between colleagues.  

For public sector workers, the government is setting a level of three days in the office and two days of télétravail where possible, but if you work in the private sector it’s really a matter between you, your boss and – where relevant – unions and workplace representatives.

If you want to stay at home you can make this request to your boss, but the boss is no longer obliged to agree. During the pandemic, employers had to justify why working from home was not possible but this requirement is now ended so your boss can in theory refuse your request without giving a reason.

However, given that the government advice is still against a full return to the office, any boss insisting on 100 percent office time without giving a reason could find themselves open to challenges from unions or even on a legal basis.

According to a survey led by French research company Opinion Way, 74 percent of people who have worked from home during the pandemic do not wish to go back to their workplace full time so you’re unlikely to be alone in this and bosses will probably end up having to compromise.

For people who do go back, there are still a lot of safety protocols in the workplace, including compulsory mask-wearing in shared indoor spaces.

Employers must ensure that workplaces are properly ventilated. Windows should remain open as much as possible and CO2 detectors to measure the carbon dioxide in the air might even be installed. 

As for sharing a meal with colleagues, six people are now allowed to sit at a table at one time, and canteens can operate with a 50 percent capacity limit. 

Socialising is also possible but strict social distancing measures must be respected. Events such as leaving parties should be limited to 25 people and should be held outdoors. 

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