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What will returning to work in 2021 look like? Your top questions answered

NBC News Senior Business Correspondent Stephanie Ruhle joined the TODAY Show to discuss mandatory vaccinations, office downsizing and employee safety.

The new year is here and the coronavirus pandemic is still devastating our country. Only 21% of organizations have returned to the workplace and more than 38% of organizations say they are heavily relying on the COVID-19 vaccine for sustainability and employability, according to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM).

About 42% of the workforce is working from home and the thought of returning to the workplace with other colleagues has been sparking questions. NBC News Senior Business Correspondent Stephanie Ruhle joined the TODAY Show to address some of Americans’ biggest concerns.

Will companies require employees to get vaccinated?

Long story short: they can. In December, the federal government said companies can require employees to get the vaccine and if the employee is uncomfortable with that, the company will likely say they aren’t ready to have that employee return to the office. However, “it’s not completely black and white,” Ruhle explained. “If there are religious reasons or health reasons why you can’t, you want to work with your employer and hopefully find other accommodations.”

Can your company terminate you if you don’t get vaccinated?

If there is no reasonable accommodation that can be made, “employers can require that the individual not come to the workplace,” said Amber Clayton, director of the SHRM Knowledge Center, but “it’s not automatic that they could terminate the individual, because of other federal or local laws that may apply.” Companies need to be careful that they are not violating laws that prevent discrimination based on a disability, health conditions or religious beliefs. Check the laws in your state about the protocol for this situation and ask your company about how they plan to move forward with the back-to-work process.

Will my office downsize or keep us working from home permanently?

The concept of companies scaling back on in-office work is becoming more common, with organizations like Google implementing a collaborative work week (working a few days in the office and the others at home) and others simply maintaining an indefinite work-from-home schedule. “We will likely see in the future companies start to shrink their office space, but I wouldn’t expect it soon,” Ruhle said. “Nobody really wants to share desks right now.” Another thing to keep in mind is that when we do return, even with widespread access to the vaccine, we will still most likely be wearing masks at work when we’re around other people.

When will restaurants be crowded again?

You may also be wondering if dining out will return to normal this year. Restaurants won’t be packed any time soon; some health experts think it won’t be until late fall or winter. So, don’t get too excited for a big Super Bowl party at your local sports bar or a romantic indoor dinner this Valentine’s Day. There are some pretty good odds that you can be celebrating Cinco de Mayo at an indoor restaurant with socially-distant seating. It will all really depend on where you live: If infection rates are really low and people have been vaccinated, things may seem somewhat normal again.