Return to Office: The Corporate Sham for Avoiding Layoff Regulations

Return to Office: The Corporate Sham for Avoiding Layoff Regulations

It’s no secret that Return to Office (RTO) mandates have been a hot topic in the post-COVID work landscape. But a recent study by BambooHR reveals a disturbing truth: RTO mandates are being used as a backdoor method to reduce staff without following proper layoff procedures. This cynical ploy not only undermines worker morale but also sidesteps legal regulations designed to protect employees.

The BambooHR study surveyed over 1,500 employees, including a significant number from HR departments, and the findings are damning. A quarter of executives and a fifth of HR professionals admitted that they hoped RTO mandates would lead to employees quitting. This isn’t just a matter of getting people back into the office; it’s a deliberate strategy to force resignations without the messy business of formal layoffs.

Many states have stringent regulations and notification requirements for layoffs. For instance, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act requires employers to provide 60 days' notice in advance of plant closings and mass layoffs. By using RTO mandates to push employees out, companies are essentially circumventing these laws. It’s a tactic that’s both legally dubious and ethically bankrupt.

The study revealed that 37% of respondents in leadership roles believed their employers had undertaken layoffs in the past 12 months due to insufficient voluntary resignations following RTO mandates. Nearly the same number thought their management wanted employees back in the office to monitor them more closely. This toxic culture of surveillance and coercion is not only ineffective but also detrimental to productivity and employee well-being.

The Human Cost of Corporate Greed

Let’s not mince words: this is about corporate greed. Companies are using RTO as a smokescreen to shed staff without facing the financial and reputational costs of layoffs. They’re exploiting a loophole to avoid paying severance and providing notice, all while maintaining a facade of normalcy.

The result? A workplace culture that’s even more performative and divisive than before. Employees feel pressured to constantly demonstrate their productivity, whether they’re in the office or working remotely. This has led to an environment where 42% of employees show up just to be seen by bosses and managers, rather than to actually get work done. It’s a farce that’s harming productivity and damaging morale.

The Need for Transparency and Accountability

It’s time for companies to be held accountable. Transparent communication and genuine engagement with employees are crucial. If RTO is genuinely necessary, it should be implemented with consideration for individual needs and clear metrics for success. Companies should listen to their employees, address their concerns, and create a culture of trust rather than one of surveillance and fear.

Economist Nick Bloom declared the return to office dead late last year, arguing that implementation rates had flattened and remote work had won. Yet, companies continue to cling to outdated notions of control and visibility, ignoring the overwhelming evidence that remote work can be just as, if not more, effective.


The RTO mandates are a cynical, underhanded tactic to reduce staff without facing the legal and ethical ramifications of layoffs. It’s time to call out this practice for what it is: a corporate sham that prioritizes profits over people. Workers deserve better than to be manipulated and coerced into quitting. It’s time for companies to stop hiding behind RTO and start treating their employees with the respect and dignity they deserve.

source: Study finds a quarter of bosses hoped RTO would make employees quit