Survey: 47% of Employers Willing to Fire Workers Who Don’t Return to Office

A new survey from reveals employers and employees may not be in alignment when it comes to where and how business should operate post-pandemic.

Of the 1,500 small business owners surveyed, 50 percent say prior to the pandemic, their employees worked on-site all or most of the time. Eighteen percent had a hybrid in-person/remote schedule. For the purposes of the study, the 32 percent of businesses that had a primarily remote workforce before the pandemic were eliminated from the rest of the survey.

As a result of the pandemic, many employers pivoted. Thirty percent allowed all employees to work from home full-time; 18 percent opted a hybrid in-person/remote model for all employees; and 18 percent had some employees working on-site, while others worked from home.

Thirty-nine percent of the business owners Digital surveyed expect all employees to return to work on-site, full-time in the future. Twenty percent are letting employees choose whether they work on-site, remotely, or a combination of both, while 17 percent are making hybrid work schedules permanent. Only 10 percent of employers are planning to switch to an all-remote workforce permanently.

Most consequential to employees is the declaration by 39 percent of all employers that they are willing to fire workers who refuse to return to their workplace full-time after the pandemic.

According to Digital’s small business expert, Dennis Consorte, this resistance to at-home work will have a negative impact going forward.

“COVID-19 lockdowns didn’t create the move towards a remote workforce — it just accelerated the inevitable,” he explained. “Companies that focus on physical location and hours worked will be behind the curve. They should focus instead on the value produced by their extended teams. Otherwise, their most valued employees may seek out remote opportunities elsewhere.”

Companies that conducted business entirely in-person before the pandemic are more likely to fire employees than businesses that were already operating on a hybrid remote/in-person model, by a rate of 44 percent to 26 percent.

However, 47 percent of business owners who say they will fire employees for not returning are in white-collar industries, including computer and information technology (17 percent); business and finance (16 percent), and advertising and marketing (14 percent). By comparison, business owners in the retail and food/hospitality sectors combined only accounted for 11 percent of employers who say they will fire employees who don’t return to work on-site.

When asked to identify the reasons why they feel it is necessary for employees to return to work in-person, either on a full- or part-time basis, 49 percent of respondents said it is because most job functions can be performed only in person. This percentage was higher for respondents from the IT, business and finance, and advertising industries.

“Companies were forced to adapt because of the lockdowns,” Consorte said. “They found ways to keep going despite having limited or no on-site staff. This suggests that a remote, or hybrid environment is often possible. Employees that must perform some job functions in person will of course need to show up at the office on a part-time basis, while they perform the majority of their work off-site. Give your employees some flexibility and trust. They’ll be happier, and you’ll be able to measure results by the quality and quantity of their deliverables.”