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Karen Holden on your rights if you don’t want to return to the office.
The Government has lifted its guidance on working from home in England, with Wales following suit tomorrow and Scotland next week while in Northern Ireland the guidance on working from home reverted to “working from home where you can with employers encouraged to facilitate this” on 21st January. But what does that mean if you don’t want to return to the office? What are your rights? Karen Holden from A City Law Firm has some advice based on what happened last year.
Although there should be risk assessments for certain people, such as the clinically vulnerable, ultimately if your contract requires it you will be expected to return to the workplace.
If an employee does not feel comfortable returning, the first step should be for them to check their employment contract and staff handbook/policies, to see what rights are available regarding flexible/home working. They should have an open and honest conversation with their employer and inform them of their concerns and what they can do to help, be this flexible working or introducing relevant policies around the workplace.
If your employer is reluctant to offer you flexible working you have a legal right to formally request it in writing. This is known as a ‘statutory application’. Bear in mind, that you must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to make a statutory application. However, unless it is discriminatory to reject this or it cannot be justified as a legitimate reason the employer is under no obligation to agree it. You can appeal.
Employers have a duty of care and must treat staff reasonably and fairly when dealing with these concerns. There is still a responsibility to keep staff safe and staff can report matters to their union or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), who can carry out inspections and force workplaces to adhere to relevant standards if there is a real risk.
Employers in England [where mask wearing is no longer mandatory] may have their own policies on mask wearing. For instance, London Transport, including the tube, still asks passengers to wear masks. Meanwhile, some shops still encourage mask wearing.