Working from home laws: Can I WFH permanently?06/18/2021
COVID lockdowns have forced millions of Brits in to home offices, behind kitchen tables and makeshift working spaces.
Business leaders believe hybrid working will remain after the pandemic. We take a look at the latest on working from home…
What are the current laws on working from home?
Office-based staff have been advised by the government to work from home where they can, until the final stage of the easing of the Covid lockdown.
On June 14 2021, Boris Johnson confirmed that Freedom Day was being delayed for at least a month – after scientists warned of 500 coronavirus deaths a day if we unlock now.
He also said that the Government's work from home guidance will remain in place.
The official current guidance adds:
- Office workers who can work from home should do so.
- Anyone unable to work from home should go to their workplace.
- Bosses should consider whether home working is appropriate for workers facing mental or physical health difficulties, or those with a particularly challenging home working environment.
- Employers should consult with their staff to decide who needs to come into the workplace.
- They should also consider the impact of employees travelling on public transport and give extra consideration to people at higher risk.
Brits have been banned from returning to the office until more people have received their first Covid-19 jab.
It comes as a 240 per cent surge in the Indian strain, known as the Delta variant, has seen cases snowball across pockets of England.
The strain is estimated to be 60 per cent more infectious than the Alpha version which originated in Kent last winter.
The PM said: "Now is the time to ease off the accelerator because by being cautious now we have the chance – in the next four weeks – to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people."
What are my rights if my employer asks me to return to the office?
Many employees may still feel uncomfortable about returning to their workplace during the pandemic.
Miquelle Groves, associate solicitor at DAS Law, said: "Your employer owes you as an employee a duty of care.
"The law is very clear on the fact that if you feel that your place of work is unsafe, then you would be protected when taking certain measures, [for example] refusing to attend."
But, all workers have an obligation to obey lawful and reasonable instructions given by their employer, explains the government.
It adds: "However, employees who refuse to attend the workplace because they reasonably believe that there is a serious and imminent danger have certain protections under employment rights legislation.
"Whether an employee has a reasonable belief will always depend on the facts.
"The fact that an employer is complying with the Government’s working safely guidance will be a relevant factor, although other factors, such as the employee’s vulnerability to Covid-19, will also be relevant.
"The Government’s working safely guidance says that there are certain workers who should not be asked to attend the workplace, such as those required to self-isolate."
Change to working from home rules
Millions of staff could be given the right to work from home after the lockdown ends.
The Government will look at ways to give workers more rights to ask for flexible working, working from home or job-shares in plans to be revealed later this year.
However today, June 17, Downing Street slapped down suggestions Brits could have a legal right to work from home, or that they would make staying at home the default option for employees.
The PM's spokesperson said: "There are no plans to make working from home the default or introduce a legal right to work from home."
Unions have warned of a risk of a two-tier workforce, divided between those who can work from home being given flexibility, and those who cannot being given none.
Treasury minister Jesse Norman told Sky News an announcement would be made in due course, adding: "Of course we want a balanced return to work.
"This is going to be very company or organisation specific and any guidance the Government puts out is going to have to recognise that."
Angela Rayner, Labour's deputy leader, said: "Instead of leaks and briefings, the Government must publish their proposals for office-based workers post-July 19, and the starting point must be a strengthening of workers' rights on flexible working so that workers are not pressured or blackmailed back into unsafe workplaces."
Business leaders believe hybrid working will remain after the pandemic.
Richard Burge, CEO of London Chamber of Commerce, said: "The majority of businesses who are able to do so have told us that they will continue working from home in some form each week beyond the pandemic.
"Whether because they've downsized or offloaded offices, or see the productivity benefit in remote working, or a number of other reasons, the simple fact is that the pandemic will deliver a flexible working legacy for many."
"Your employer cannot force you, or insist you take the Covid vaccine," says Hatti Suvari, consumer advocate and host of podcast Get Legally Speaking.
She told the Sun Online: "Your employer is under a duty to provide a safe working environment for you and all of its staff, and indeed customers and clients.
"If you are reluctant to take the jab, then try and consider the position your employer is in, having to adhere to laws on how to keep you, your colleagues and its customers safe."
For those worried about a colleague who works in close proximity "refusing to have the jab, then relay your concerns to your employer in writing as well as verbally, to try".
Suvari recommends that "all parties try to find a solution, for example if people could potentially be moved to other areas of the premises".
"Whilst having the Covid jab is not currently mandatory by law, it is the Government’s role to protect us and to work towards keeping us all safe, and employers have to abide by laws to protect you, your colleagues and its customers.
"It is always best to try and avoid contentious situations, and talking things through with a view to try and find a mutually agreeable solution, is always the best way," she said.
However, "if your employer dismisses you as a result of you not wanting a jab, unfair dismissal could come in to play.
"You should take immediate legal advice if you are concerned that you have been unfairly dismissed.
"The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) gives employees and employers free, impartial advice on workplace rights, rules and best practice.
"They also offer training and help to resolve disputes," Suvari added.
Also, "you only have three months less one day from the date of the dismissal, or when you departed company with your employer, perhaps as a result of feeling ‘pushed out’ to be able to make a claim in the Employment Tribunal", she advised.
New Covid jab rules for workers, hairdressers, tradespeople and beauticians going into care homes
From October 2021, subject to parliamentary approval and a 16-week grace period, anyone working in a Care Quality Commission-registered care home in England must have two doses of a Covid vaccine unless they have a medical exemption, the Department of Health and Social Care said.
The requirement will also apply to people coming into care homes to do other work, such as tradespeople, hairdressers and beauticians, and inspectors.
There will be exceptions for family and friends visiting care homes, under 18s, emergency services and people undertaking urgent maintenance work, the department added.
What should my employer be doing to protect me at work?
According to government guidance, employers should:
- Complete a Covid-19 risk assessment, and share it with all staff.
- Clean more often, especially surfaces that people touch a lot. Staff and customers to use hand sanitiser and wash their hands frequently.
- Remind visitors to wear face coverings where the law says they must.
- Make sure everyone can maintain social distancing, for example putting up signs or introducing a one-way system.
- Provide adequate ventilation by supplying fresh air to enclosed space where people are present. For example via windows, doors and vents, mechanical ventilation using fans and ducts, or a combination of both.
- Take part in NHS Test and Trace.
- Turn people with coronavirus symptoms away.
- Arrange work spaces to keep staff apart.
- Reduce face-to-face meetings.
- Reduce crowding.
Your employer does owe a duty of care to you and other members of staff.
But, "they do not have an obligation to arrange or pay for any safe transport to and from the work place (unless contractually obliged to) and this is generally not a reason to refuse to attend," advises Groves.
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