A public service union has reacted angrily to claims the Stormont Executive is pushing to bring thousands of civil servants back to the office.
Politicians are reported to view the absence of civil servants from major city and town buildings as economically crippling to restaurants, coffee shops and bars losing out on trade.
Economy Minister Diane Dodds has written to the head of the civil service, David Sterling, on the matter.
According to Sunday Life, Mrs Dodds said "one of the greatest drivers of footfall in Belfast city centre would be if Northern Ireland Civil Service staff are back at work".
The NIPSA trade union said any suggestion that civil servants are to blame for the floundering high street economy is "ludicrous".
Many of the buildings that house Northern Ireland's 23,500 civil service staff are currently understood to be operating at under 30% capacity. It is further reported that some senior politicians are considering moving staff out of expensive inner city offices, and that Stormont ministers are setting up a High Street Taskforce to bring shoppers back into town.
NIPSA's general secretary Alison Millar said it was "deeply unfair" to assume that forcing civil servants back to the office alone would save the economy.
"The facts are that many civil servants have been in work during the pandemic delivering vital public services, and thousands of other civil servants have been delivering vital public services while working from home," she said.
"The reality of the situation is that where civil servants are in work, either on a permanent or rota basis, this is driven by the social distancing and other safety measures which this very government has said must be in place."
The Department for the Economy was contacted for a response.
However, a Department of Finance spokesperson replied: "During the pandemic civil servants have continued to work in line with the latest guidance, either attending workplaces safely or working remotely providing services and support to a wide range of people, including those members of society and businesses impacted by Covid-19.
"The number of staff who can safely work within our offices has been considerably reduced to comply with social distancing, which has proven to be the most effective means of preventing the spread of the virus.
"In line with the Executive's phased, strategic approach to recovery, civil servants who can work from home should continue to do so. Relevant policy, advice and guidance are reviewed on an ongoing basis in light of evolving developments."
Separately, a YouGov poll has suggested that one in three British workers do not expect to be back in the office until 2021. A quarter (25%) of 4,001 workers surveyed said they expected to return to work in 2021 while 8% think they will work at home indefinitely.