Managing the Return to the Office

Businesses large and small are starting to return to the office, quite understandably many businesses are keen to get back to normal working in their offices, whilst others are recognising that they may not require expensive office space after all.

Some employees have reservations about returning to the office but it must be remembered that an employer is not legally obliged to allow working from home and can ask you to come back to work without giving any notice; however, it is generally considered that at least one week’s notice should be given to enable an employee to make any arrangements needed for child care or care of an elderly relative.

Daniel Theron, a partner, commented “employers who pressure reluctant employees to return to work would be wise to temper their strong desire to get back to normal with consideration for the potential reputational damage that a hard-line policy may deliver.” He further commented “there have been some spectacular “own-goals” scored during the coronavirus crisis, from the cash-rich football clubs furloughing staff to Tim Martin of Wetherspoons informing his staff that they would not be paid until the furlough scheme starts and suggesting that they find other jobs in a supermarket.”

Another way of managing the situation that employers are using is to ask their staff to take annual leave; notice must be given at double the time of the compulsory period of leave e.g. two weeks’ notice before taking one week as leave.  If you don't want to take holiday, you could ask for it to be carried forward as the government has created a temporary law applying to the coronavirus crisis, where employees can carry over up to four weeks paid holiday for the next two years.

There are protections for employees under certain circumstances.  An employee who refuses to return to the office due to shielding from the coronavirus due to underlying medical reasons may be able to lean on the provision in the Equality Act 2010 which prevents discrimination of disabled workers.  Employers should also be mindful of The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 which obliges an employer to ensure that their employees are working in a safe environment. The Health and Safety Executive can advise both employers and employees if there are any concerns

If an employee has to self-isolate through the track and trace scheme there is an entitlement to statutory sick pay at £95.85 per week provided an employee earns a minimum of £120 per week.  Some employers will choose to still pay staff if they are able to work from home whilst in isolation.

Many employers whose businesses can function with their staff working from home may decide that they will continue to do so rather than trying to bring their staff back into the office. However, that is not without some responsibilities despite not working in the firm’s offices the obligation to ensure that staff work in a safe environment still applies.  An employer is not, however, legally obliged to provide the staff working from home with all the kit for a home office.

There are many factors surrounding the easing of lockdown and businesses need to ensure that they are on firm legal ground before imposing any requirements on their staff.  Equally, any concerns an employee has should first be put to their employer to try to find a solution. 

For further information about employment related issues arising out of the easing of lockdown please click here