The return to work: your questions answered
Rising cases and the transmissibility of the ‘Delta variant’ of COVID-19 may delay the UK’s ‘freedom day’ of 21 June; even so, increasing numbers of people are either making or soon expect to make the transition back to the office. If you have any questions about the return to office life, our expert employment lawyers are on hand to answer them.
When can I go back to the office?
While many of us are looking forward to a return to normal working life, there is widespread uncertainty about what people can, or should, do in the coming months. Currently, government guidance is that those who can work from home should do so, while those whose who can’t are permitted to travel to work.
As for the future, much is still dependent on the government’s next review into social distancing on 21 June. If work from home guidance doesn’t change on this date, we are still expecting the government to provide an update as to exactly when we can expect an end to all COVID-19 restrictions.
Whatever happens on 21 June, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t go into work if you develop symptoms of coronavirus or have been asked to self-isolate following a positive test.
Do I have to go back to work?
Some people will likely be nervous about the prospect of returning to their workplace, while others have come to enjoy the freedom and flexibility of their remote working routine.
Under current guidelines, employers will find it difficult to force staff to return to work if they can perform their role from home. However, if your job is better performed on site, then your employer will likely expect you to return. Furthermore, once the guidelines permit a return to work even for those who can work from home, refusal to return could result in disciplinary action.
That said, evidence suggests that the majority of employers are willing to be flexible even after restrictions ease, with an Institute of Directors (IoD) survey revealing that one in 10 companies plan to allow staff to work from home full-time and a further 63% planning to adopt ‘hybrid’ working.
What if I’m clinically vulnerable?
Guidance requiring clinically vulnerable groups to shield ended in April, with the majority of vulnerable people now double vaccinated. If you cannot work from home, your employer may now expect you to come back to work. However, with the furlough scheme extended until 30 September, you may continue to be eligible until this date if your employer agrees.
If your employer doesn’t agree to furlough you and wants you to attend your workplace, they still have a legal duty to ensure they have taken all reasonable steps to make your workplace safe. If you are nervous about returning, it is advisable to communicate with your employer so they can help address your concerns.
If you are also disabled, your employer is legally bound to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate your disability, which may involve allowing you to work from home.
What are my employer’s health and safety responsibilities?
Employers have a legal ‘duty of care’ not only to their staff, but also customers and visitors to the workplace. Under current COVID-19 workplace guidance, this means employers must undertake a COVID-19 risk assessment and take reasonable steps to mitigate the risk of transmission. This may include measures such as:
- Rearranging shifts to allow employees to avoid rush hour on public transport
- Providing PPE such as masks and gloves
- Staggering start and finish times
- Providing of hygiene equipment such as hand sanitiser
- Introducing one-way systems
- Social distancing
- Face coverings for retail staff and customers
Unsure of your rights and responsibilities?
With the 21 June in question, employers will likely have to follow coronavirus guidance and social distancing restrictions well into the summer months. With the country mostly open but cases rising, it is unsurprising that so many employers and employees are unsure about their rights and responsibilities with regards to returning to the workplace. That’s why our Employment Law team is here. Fully up to date with the latest government guidelines, they can assist employees in understanding their rights, and employers in helping their staff make the transition safely whilst fully complying with their legal duties. To get in touch, please call Ahmet Ozcan on 0203 871 9254 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.