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Plan B: Can Your Boss Still Make You Work From The Office?

·4 min read
Plan B guidance is that people should work from home if they can. (Photo: mixetto via Getty Images)
Plan B guidance is that people should work from home if they can. (Photo: mixetto via Getty Images)

No one could have imagined two years ago that working from home would become the norm for so many of us.

In July, the official “work from home” guidance was scrapped in England along with almost all other lockdown restrictions – but now it’s back again as part of the government’s Plan B measures to stop the spread of the Omicron variant.

Since the summer, many workers across England have been doing hybrid working, going into the office at least a few days each week. But from Monday December 13, the advice is to work from home if you can once more.

Work from home guidance is already in place elsewhere in the UK and on Tuesday, Scotland’s first Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the guidance would continue until mid-January.

Even in the autumn, some workplaces delayed a compulsory office return, with staff worried it was too soon to be sitting side-by-side without face masks all day – particularly those who’ve not get their booster, or people in at-risk groups.

Other people who’ve enjoyed the greater flexibility of remote working have been asking why we need to return to the old system, when we’ve proved we can do our jobs without a commute each day.

Since the last change of rules in July, some employers even faced legal claims from staff for implementing office returns. Discrimination cases were raised by those with long Covid told to return to the workplace, as well as by those who are clinically vulnerable to coronavirus, according to The Telegraph

Other claims were made on the basis of personal injury, with employees saying their commute was causing stress, because while Covid cases were falling at the time, number still remained high.

With Omicron cases now rising again and Christmas just around the corner, people are understandably cautious. So, what are your rights if you’d rather work from home for good, or continue with a half-and-half hybrid system?

Citizens Advice has answered the need-to-know questions.

Can my employer make me come into work?

The short answer is yes. “When you enter into a contract to work for an employer you have to comply with ‘reasonable management requests’. That means your employer can ask you to return to your normal workplace if your original contract specified that you would be office-based or based elsewhere,” Citizens Advice explains.

In practice, many employers have been working to a blended working model, with some time at home and some time in the office, so find out what’s being discussed in your company.

“You can ask to keep working from home, but that doesn’t mean your employer has to agree,” says Citizens Advice. “Start by having an open conversation with your employer about your wishes, and consider making a flexible working request, which is a legal right all employees have. You can include your reasons why working from home is better for you and will also help the business.”

What if I’m worried about safety measures at work?

Your employer has a duty under the law, and under your contract, to ensure that your workplace does not pose a risk to your health and safety.

Current guidance says employers should complete a Covid risk assessment and take steps to prevent transmission, including frequent cleaning and social distancing, Citizens Advice says. This guidance has been updated for specific workplace settings since Plan was introduced.

From December 15, certain businesses and events will be required by law to check the Covid status of workers and customers using the NHS Covid Pass

If you are unhappy with safety measures at your workplace, you could report your employer to the Health and Safety Executive, but ideally you and your employer can solve the issues together.

(Photo: damircudic via Getty Images)
(Photo: damircudic via Getty Images)

I’m uncomfortable taking public transport. What are my options?

Your employer’s duty is limited to things that are under their control, so there’s no clear legal position about whether it has to take into account the risks you face when travelling to and from work, says Citizens Advice.

“That said, your employer should listen to your concerns if you’re worried about having to use public transport after being called back into work,” it adds. “You could reach an arrangement that you’re comfortable with, for example, asking to travel at quieter times of the day.”

What happens if I need to self-isolate?

You must tell your employer that you have to self-isolate – whether you’ve tested positive for Covid or have come into contact with the virus. Citizens Advice recommends telling them in writing, so you have a record for later use.

“If you’re unable to work from home, you may be entitled to benefits, sick pay or a self-isolation payment of £500 from your local council. If you’ve been furloughed before by your employer, [they] might also be able to furlough you for the period you need to self-isolate. See the Citizens Advice website for more information.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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