Many people across the UK have spent at least some of the last year working from home before being told to make a ‘gradual’ return to the office as lockdown restrictions eased – but what are the rules now?
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Brits were told to make a “gradual” return to the office as lockdown restrictions eased in the summer – but what are the rules now?
Face mask restrictions have been reintroduced again in England in some settings – including shops and public transport – due to the Omicron Covid variant.
Wearing a face covering was already mandatory on public transport and in many indoor areas in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
But when it comes to working from home, only Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are advising people to stay away from the office if they can.
The guidance on working from home in England is yet to change.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Boris Johnson insisted working from home is “not currently necessary”.
Health secretary Sajid Javid also mirrored these comments during an appearance on The Andrew Marr show on BBC1.
He said: “I don’t think [WFH] is necessary. Because this is about taking proportionate action against the risks that we face.“
What are my rights for working from home?
We spoke to Pam Loch, solicitor and managing director at Loch Employment Law, to find out what rights you have to work from home if you want to.
Legally your employer has every right to ask you to go back to work – and they can turn down your request if they have a legitimate business reason to do so.
But they do have to make reasonable adjustments in some cases.
Ultimately, you should speak to your boss as soon as possible if you’ve been asked to go into the office and you don’t feel safe to do so.
If you’re worried about your safety, an employer must continue to carry out risk assessments and ensure the office is Covid secure, says Pam.
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They should be sharing the risk assessments so you can see if it is safe.
“If they have more than 50 employees then they must also publish their risk assessments on their website,” added Pam.
“If you are concerned that this has not been done or that the office is not safe to work in, then you need to raise that with your employer and potentially raise it as a grievance if it’s not informally resolved.
“The Health and Safety Executive are also interested in hearing about any workplaces that are not safe as an employer has a legal obligation to look after the health and safety of their employees at work.”
If you are feeling very anxious about attending work because you feel it is not safe, then Pam explained how your GP may decide you are unfit to work and sign you off sick.
However, if you have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 which is affected by going to the office, and you want to work from home because it helps you feel better, then you can ask your employer to work from home.
Pam said: “It’s worth making clear when you make the request that it is a reasonable adjustment.
“Employers are legally required to consider and make reasonable adjustments if you have a disability that meets the requirements in the Equality Act.”
If this doesn’t apply and you want to change your working arrangements, then Pam points out how you can make a flexible working request to ask to work more from home.
She added: “To make a request under the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 you would need to have at least 26 weeks’ service although this is likely to change in 2022.
“The employer has to follow a process of seriously considering the request and provide a response within three months. They can agree, or agree subject to a trial period or reject the request based on eight business reasons.
“If it’s rejected and you are unhappy then you can appeal the decision and after that you can make a complaint to the Employment Tribunal.
“You can do that if there has been a breach of the process or if you think that you have been subjected to sex discrimination when the request was rejected. “
But the law is complex on this – so it’s important to get some advice beforehand.
You can bring these claims while you remain employed so you don’t have to resign.
Pam added: “However if you felt you had been very badly and you have more than two years’ service, then you could resign and bring a claim for constructive unfair dismissal.
“This type of claim is not straightforward, and you want to make sure you have had good legal advice before you decide to resign.”