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Karen Holden from A City Law Firm advises those being asked to go back to work about their rights not just in relation to their work, but to transport to work.
As of 19th July, the Government has eased Covid-related restrictions in the UK. Notably, the instruction to work from home has been removed and the restrictions on face coverings and social distancing have been lifted, although Transport for London, airlines and other companies will impose their own rules.
Furthermore, on August 16th, self-isolating will no longer be mandatory for Covid contacts for those under 18 or fully vaccinated.
The Government has changed their policy from work from home to return to work. However, they expect this to be a gradual move taking place over the summer. This means that people will be expected to come back into the office quite soon. As such, childcare arrangements will need to be considered and risk assessments for those not vaccinated or those who were shielding may be required, but ultimately if your contract requires it you will be expected to return to work.
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.
Evolving policies are likely to be seen regarding isolation, risk assessments, masks and much more. Having the vaccine still remains a choice and an employer cannot force you to have this or discriminate against you if you have a health condition preventing you from taking it, but an employer can determine changes in line with risk assessments and regulations as appropriate.
The vast majority of legal restrictions surrounding social contact, including distancing and face coverings, have been removed. However, it is important to be aware of your surroundings and exercise caution. The Government have stated that masks should be worn “in crowded areas”. Your employer should have a clear policy or offer guidance on this for you, clients attending the workplace and what happens in the event of a Covid-19 outbreak.
Regarding third party policies:
The Rail Delivery Group, who represent all UK train and tram operators have confirmed that rail travel is low risk, with most carriages offering decent ventilation. Therefore, no passengers are required to wear a mask or distance.
TFL have confirmed that, unless exempt, passengers are required to wear face coverings for their journey. Enforcement officers will be able to deny access to anyone not complying with this requirement.
Most major supermarkets have said they will encourage customers to continue using face masks and exercise distancing caution. However, they will not bar those who do not. This sentiment seems to be shared by most stores.
The general consensus is that you can continue wearing masks and distancing if you want, but this will not be enforced. Most places have invested heavily in Covid- safe measures.
The wearing of masks remains mandatory and tests will be subject to destinations.
*Karen Holden is founder of A City Law Firm. If you are unsure of your rights, please get in touch with the dedicated and friendly team here at ACLF for some advice.