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As Plan B Ends, Can Your Boss Make You Return To 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)

The advice to work from home where possible has been scrapped once again in England, as part of the government’s roll back of Plan B restrictions.

Under the changes, face masks will also no longer be mandatory in indoor settings from Thursday (January 27), including on public transport and in offices.

Scotland is also relaxing WFH rules. From January 31, employers are encouraged to phase workers back into spending some time in the office, via hybrid working models.

“We know there are many benefits to both employees and employers, and to the economy as a whole, in at least a partial return to the office at this stage,” first minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

In Wales, WFH guidance remains in place while in Northern Ireland, employers are encouraged to support working from home “where possible”, but it is not mandated.

But what if you’re not comfortable returning to the office? Can you boss force you to come back?

When WFH guidance was briefly scrapped in 2021 (before being reintroduced over winter) , some employers 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, numbers still remained high.

With Omicron still very much in circulation, people are understandably cautious. When discussing concerns with your employers, it helps to know your rights.

Citizens Advice has answered the need-to-know questions, whether you want to work from home for good, or continue with a half-and-half hybrid system.

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.

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 after a positive Covid test. 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. See the Citizens Advice website for more information.”

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


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