Working in Sweden: Can my boss force me to return to the office?

Working in Sweden: Can my boss force me to return to the office?
The short answer is 'yes', but you do have options if you feel you're being sent back to work too soon. Photo: Vidar Ruud/NTB scanpix/TT
As Swedish authorities urge people to work from home if they possibly can, what are your options in a workplace that doesn't support this?

The recommendation from the Public Health Agency is to work from home “if possible” to minimise the spread of the coronavirus; that's been in place since March and continues to apply at least until the end of this year, and likely for longer.

This means that the final decision is up to individual employers.

Of course for many it's not possible to work from home. Staff at public transport, the care and medical sector, and schools have mostly been continuing to work from their usual workplace throughout the pandemic.

In fact, that's one of the reasons for the 'work from home' recommendation – if people who can work from home do so, it reduces crowding on transport and in city centres, making it safer for those who cannot work remotely. 

If your work can be done from home, the message is clear that your employer should not only encourage but actively ensure that this happens. Many of the regional coronavirus recommendations now in place across most of the country include a call tot employers to ensure home-working to a greater extent.

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Passengers at the Slussen bus station in Stockholm. Photo: Naima Helén Jåma/TT

Some Swedish companies have announced plans for long-term home-working. Others might be taking a phased approach, where offices will be filled to only partial capacity, or staff will have the option to come in only on certain days of the week, or only to work on tasks that require being on-site.

If you have a specific reason to work from home – for example if you belong to a risk group for Covid-19, or if you have symptoms consistent with the virus – you should speak to your employer and get your union involved if needed.

This might be particularly useful for jobs that are usually not possible to do from home but where it may be possible for individual exceptions to be made. And if you belong to a risk group and cannot do your work, you can also apply for compensation, which was recently extended up to the end of March 2021.

Others may not belong to a risk group but want to work from home in order to help curb the spread of the virus, as authorities are recommending. If you are in this position and your employer is not supporting home-working, it can be valuable to band together as a group with other employees to explain your concerns. Your employer has a responsibility to provide a safe working environment, and that includes taking protective measures.

Be aware that refusing to work from the workplace could be seen as refusal to work which can have serious consequences, so try to approach the issue proactively, presenting your manager with your proposed solutions.

It may be possible for you to continue working from home, or you might reach a solution such as only working from the office for a limited number of hours per day or days per week, or staggering your working hours to avoid rush hour on public transport.

If you're a member of a union, you should have access to support from them. The influence that they have depends on whether your workplace officially recognises the union; if they do, then the union can raise these issues on behalf of employees, and if not, they can still give you advice about your rights and possible courses of action.

Even if your workplace doesn't have union recognition, check if you have a skyddsombud (work place environment representative). If you don't have one, the employees of the company can elect one.

This person will be responsible for representing employees on the subject of workplace safety and environment, including involvement in discussions and risk assessments about the work environment, requesting additional measures, and even asking for work to be paused if they judge there is a high risk to employee safety.

If you have any questions about working or living in Sweden, please email our editorial team at [email protected].


Member comments

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  1. Be very careful with this. The boss at my company threatened to fire anyone who did not come to the office even though we were all on permittering and supposed to work 40%. Eventually he did fire half the staff. Unionen did absolutely nothing. The company fired them under the pretense of restructuring and Unionen said small companies (under 10 employees) can do that and there is basically nothing that can be done.

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