Can Your Boss Make You Go Back to Work?

Even if you don’t have legal protections, you may be able to negotiate with your boss.

(Image credit: Illustration by Vanessa Branchi)

Across the U.S., companies that sent their workers home in March to protect them from the coronavirus pandemic are gradually reopening. Most are implementing a long list of precautions, from requiring workers to wear masks to limiting capacity on elevators. But with coronavirus cases still rising in some parts of the country—and a vaccine months away—some workers are reluctant to go back to the office.

Which raises the question: If you don’t feel safe, can your employer require you to return to work? The answer depends on a number of factors, but your individual circumstances are most important, says Alison Green, founder of the Ask a Manager website and author of Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses and Other Tricky Situations at Work.

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Sandra Block
Senior Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Block joined Kiplinger in June 2012 from USA Today, where she was a reporter and personal finance columnist for more than 15 years. Prior to that, she worked for the Akron Beacon-Journal and Dow Jones Newswires. In 1993, she was a Knight-Bagehot fellow in economics and business journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has a BA in communications from Bethany College in Bethany, W.Va.