Can I be forced to return to the office?

Restrictions are relaxing, but Rustom Tata from DMH Stallard says employers don’t have an absolute right to force people back to the office.

A woman sits at her desk with hand sanitiser and face mask in the foreground

 

As some restrictions relax today, with pubs, restaurants, cinemas and others able to re-open indoors, and as the TUC cautions that high vaccination rates are “no excuse” for failing to enforce safety measures for staff and customers, Rustom Tata, partner at law firm DMH Stallard and head of the firm’s employment group,  outlines the latest position with regard to getting people back to the office. The Government has indicated that it will lift its work from home guidance on 21st June if infection rates continue to fall.

Employers don’t have an absolute unfettered right to require employees to return to the office.

With so much of the working population still not having had the opportunity to be vaccinated and the relative uncertainty of the effectiveness of the vaccine in terms of reducing the rate of transmission, it would be a bold employer who just presses ahead regardless with a requirement for everyone to return to the office.

While many organisations are gearing up to return to the office over the next few weeks, the key will be for the employer to listen to the employee’s concerns to establish whether the employee has a good, objective reason for resisting.

Most employees will want to return, partly as they have missed the office environment, and they won’t want to be left behind.  However, those employers who are simply saying that they expect office life to be how it was before, will be either taking a calculated risk, or may be unaware of the potential challenges that they face.

Even for those returning to the office, we still await the government guidelines on social distancing within the office, and as now, employers will need to ensure that they provide a safe environment for their workers.  The one caveat, is that a ‘safe’ environment is not the same as one which is wholly risk-free.



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