For England, on 19 July the government's working from home guidance ended, along with the mandatory wearing of face masks and the one meter-plus social distancing rule. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have set out their plans for the lifting of restrictions separately.
The scrapping of the work from home guidance doesn't necessarily mean that employers will be requiring everyone to return to the office. Instead, the Prime Minister said it will be up to employers to determine their own working patterns.
Although employers have been given the green light to start to plan a return to the workplace, it will be important that employers take care as to how they deal with certain categories of worker so as to avoid employee relations problems and litigation risks. Some employees may be reluctant to return to work, perhaps because they still regard themselves (or people they live with) as vulnerable to infection, either from their work colleagues or by travelling on public transport. Other employees may be suffering the effects of long Covid or struggling with mental health issues because of the pandemic and the prolonged isolation. Some employees may have got used to working from home and prefer it to continue – such as those with childcare responsibilities or those who have been working abroad. These issues if not handled correctly could present risks of claims such as for discrimination and unfair dismissal, including automatically unfair dismissal for health and safety reasons.
Employers will now be considering their options, whether that is getting their workforces back to the workplace or continuing with some remote working where that way of working has proved successful. Working from home has after all become part of the new normal for many office-based workers. Whereas previously, some employers were reluctant to allow regular or widespread homeworking, the pandemic has challenged these attitudes and has arguably paved the way for less traditional working models to thrive.
More information can be found in our recent Covid-19 articles:
- Post-pandemic flexible working
- The key themes on the updated 6 government guides "working safely during coronavirus"
- Ways we can support your workforce return to work safely and lawfully or to put in place more agile working arrangements
Key Action Points for Human Resources and In-house Counsel
Employers in England should consider taking the following key steps when planning a return to the workplace:
- Review the updated government guidance "Working Safely During Coronavirus", implement any necessary changes, and update COVID health & safety risk assessments
- Plan your communications with staff
- Consider any vulnerable workers
- Consider alternative options and what adjustments you may be prepared to make to address any concerns about returning to the workplace
- Update policies on self-isolation and in relation to people travelling abroad
- Review flexible working, home/agile-working and grievance policies.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.