Can your employer make you return to the office after July 19? Your rights explained

WORKERS will return to offices this month after the government confirmed the last stage of the roadmap out of lockdown will go ahead.

Employers have been told to begin a "gradual return" to the workplace from July 19.

The Prime Minister yesterday said a slow return over the summer is expected rather than a "rush back to the office en masse".

Boris Johnson told a Downing Street press conference last night: "We're removing the Government instruction to work from home where you can but we don't expect that the whole country will return to their desk as one from Monday.

"We're setting out guidance for business for a gradual return to work over the summer."

The Prime Minister's statement came after Health Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday announced that the final stage of lockdown easing can go-ahead next week.

Mr Javid said: "We have looked closely at the data against these four tests and we firmly believe this is the right time to get our nation closer to normal life."

Can your boss make you go back to the office?

Legally, your employer has the right to tell you to return to the office after the working from home rule is lifted, depending on what is in your contract.

If your original contract specified that you would be office-based or based elsewhere, your boss can ask you to resume working from that location.

But they must also take into account any advice issued by the Government and they shouldn't force you back if you have reasonable concerns.

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It's also worth having a conversation with your boss about your working preferences, as they may be willing to be flexible.

Emma Williams, an employment expert at law firm Higgs, said most
employers will have the legal right to ask their staff to return to their desks full-time if they wish.

She said: “Employers and employees need to look at their contracts. If there is a place of work clause which states that employees should work in the office, that will generally be enough for employers to force a return.

“If an employee refuses to return to the office it could, ultimately, be deemed an unauthorised absence and disciplinary action could follow."

Claire Conlaund, managing director of work learning platform Cademi, added: "Unfortunately if the boss wants you back in the office in post-pandemic then it's likely you will have to comply with that if you want to keep your job.

"Perhaps if you are classed as vulnerable there may be scope to make an argument that you want to remain at home.

"Some employers will be flexible but others will be wondering where to draw the line."

What if you have safety concerns?

Your employer has a legal duty to ensure that your workplace does not pose a risk to your health and safety.

But if you're unhappy with the safety measures in place, you should discuss it with your employer.

Following that, you could report them to the Health and Safety Executive.

If you're concerned about using public transport during your commute, you may be able to reach an agreement with your employer to travel at a quieter time of day.

You shouldn’t go into work if you're self-isolating and you must tell your employer that you have to stay at home.

"The employer needs to provide a safe working environment and some employees may well argue that they feel they are facing a serious and imminent threat to their safety," Emma Williams said.

“That argument could be used by anyone if they feel sufficient Covid safety measures are not in place, but it’s going to be particularly powerful if there are other issues at play.

"For example, some people are not able to be vaccinated because of medical
conditions, and others are more vulnerable to Covid-19 because of pre-existing medical problems.

“Here, cases will need to be dealt with between employer and employee on a case-by- case basis – and it’s in these more complex circumstances that professional legal advice is required.”

What are your flexible working rights?

Many employers are looking into or encouraging a hybrid working practice – with staff splitting time between the office and home.

If you would like to continue remote working at least some of the time, you should have a conversation about it with your boss.

Citizens Advice recommends making a flexible working request, which is a legal right all employees have.

As part of your application you can include your reasons why working from home is better for you and will also help the business.

Matthew Bradbury, employment expert at Citizens Advice, said: “With restrictions ending and workplaces reopening, people will understandably have questions about their rights.

"While you can ask to continue working from home, your employer doesn’t have to agree.

“If you have any concerns, it’s important to talk with your employer as soon as possible so that you can reach a solution that works for both of you.

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