UK Workers Return to Office?

As Boris Johnson eases lockdown further as he pushes for a “significant return to normality” he is advising that employees can return to the office environment from 1st August in a bid to save the economy. The Prime Minister also said that the discretion will lie with employers, who should consult with employees and make sure their workplace is safe.

WHAT DO EMPLOYERS THINK?

  • Many employers say they don’t need to go back to the office and they prefer home working
  • RBS staff have told 50,000 workers not to return to the office until 2021.
  • All Asda HQ staff have been told to return to the office once a week from August.
  • A small company which had a Soho office said they would not be returning so they could save money
  • Another central London employer with over 200 staff said that their workforce would not be returning to the office for the foreseeable future
  • 7 out of 10 people support the PM’s plea to get back into the office

CAN EMPLOYEES BE FORCED TO RETURN?

According to the PM, provided that covid secure measures are adhered to, employers “should be encouraging people to get back to work where that is right for that employee”.

Employers need to take steps to ensure their workplaces are safe for workers to return to, with a list of measures to adhere to. A risk assessment should also be designed and carried out. 

These measures include but are not limited to; 

  • Making sure the one meter plus rule of social distancing can be observed
  • Introducing one-way systems to minimise contact
  • Frequent cleaning of objects and communal areas
  • Venues expected to collect customers’ contact details for the NHS Test and Trace system If these measures are not abided by, employees have a right not to attend if there is reasonable belief there is a serious or imminent threat to their safety.

WHAT IF EMPLOYEES REFUSE TO COME BACK TO THE OFFICE EVEN IF THE EMPLOYER HAS MADE THE WORKING ENVIRONMENT SAFE?

It’s important to talk to your employee to find out the reason why they are unable to return to the office so we would always advise having an informal meeting with them to understand their doubts/fears/concerns.

The reasons may be;

  1. Employee has various concerns which could be safety, fear of masks, fear of being around people, childcare issues etc.
  2. Employee is unable to work due to sickness
  3. Employee is unable to travel or worried about using public transport.

In each situation, it’s important to talk through the concerns and come up with suitable solutions for both parties which would then need to be documented. If the employee is able to continue working from home this could be a suitable outcome, as long as the work is not affected. If homeworking is not an option, then could the employee do an alternative role for a temporary period or adjust the hours etc?

Each individual and situation will be different so it’s important to go through their concerns and call us if you require any advice.

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