Many workers have had to swap the office for working from home during the coronavirus pandemic and, for some, the arrangement has made life much easier.
But if you would rather not return to the office, and would prefer to continue working from home, can you refuse to go back?
Returning to the office
Although some employers are continuing to let employees work from home, some workers are now required to go back to the office - providing that the workplace is Covid-secure.
However, Kate Palmer, Associate Director of Advisory at business support company Peninsula, explains, “Unless they are still under advice to shield or subject to local lockdown rules, employees can be asked to return to the office and, for the most part, cannot legally refuse.”
However, Ms Palmer acknowledges that the situation is likely not to be as clear cut as this.
“For many, the prospect of returning to work with the coronavirus continuing to pose a significant risk to the public may be very unsettling and cause them to act in ways they would otherwise not to,” she says.
“Therefore, while employers could consider disciplining staff who refuse to attend work, they should proceed carefully.”
Many employers and employees have had to adapt to working from home during the lockdown period, with workers doing so quickly and efficiently. It may therefore now be more challenging to argue that staff need to be in the workplace to fully do their job.
Flexible working rules
Workers also have a right to request to have flexible working conditions, when they have been with the company for a certain amount of time, explains Ms Palmer.
“Employers should also bear in mind that employees who have worked for them for at least 26 weeks have the legal right to request flexible working, which can include homeworking,” adds Ms Palmer.
“Fundamentally, it is up to the employer if they choose to allow home working. However, they may find it more difficult to justify not permitting it now. If employers are willing to allow it on a more permanent basis, they should put together a clear homeworking agreement.”
What if an employee refuses to go back to the office?
In situations where a member of staff does refuse to come in, Ms Palmer notes that it is important for employers to consider their employee’s specific circumstances before making any decision in how to respond to their actions.
An employee may fall into the high risk category or they may be struggling to arrange childcare and concerned over how returning to work could impact this.
If this situation arises, “employers should aim to be as understanding and accommodating as possible,” advises Ms Palmer.
Giving employees as much notice as the company can of the employee’s impending return to the office can help them to arrange any childcare issues. Alternatively, if the employee is struggling with this, the employer could consider staggering their hours or keeping them at home for longer.
Employers can also show their staff that they are committed to keeping them safe when they return to the office, by showing their efforts to deep clean workspaces and make hand sanitisers and protective wear available, alongside restricting the number of visitors allowed into the building.