19th July – a mass return to the office or employee stand-off?

After several long months the guidance that, if they can, people should work from home will finally come to an end along with other restrictions with effect from 19th July.

A number of employers have already confirmed that they require staff to return to the office over the coming weeks, although the number of days to be worked in the workplace vary from organisation to organisation.

But what if your employee refuses to return to the workplace at all, claiming that they’ve worked fine from home for the last 16 months so why should it change?

When restrictions were initially eased last Summer, many employees reported that they did not feel safe returning to the workplace because their employer had not met their obligations in providing a safe working environment with adequate Covid measures in place.  Employers were advised to tread carefully in trying to force people back to the office and a large number of employees continued to work from home and still do.

However, as restrictions are now being lifted and most companies have invested heavily in making the workplace Covid-safe, will employees be able to rely so firmly on the Health & Safety at Work Act to justify staying at home indefinitely?  I don’t think so, unless they’re advised otherwise by a medical practitioner in cases where the individual may be classed as clinically extremely vulnerable.

Unless there was already an agreement in place for home/remote-working prior to the pandemic, employees simply don’t have a legal right to insist that they permanently work from home, and employers are entitled to request that their people work in the office.

But oppositional reactions to the recent announcements by Apple and other large employers who’ve recently confirmed that they expect staff to return to the office in the near future indicates that not all employees are happy to comply and may decide to vote with their feet.

Whilst I don’t think that we should all immediately go back to the way things used to be, I also believe that some employees are using this as an opportunity to hold employers to ransom if they don’t get their own way. After all, they knew the terms of the role when they accepted it so why has it now become a huge inconvenience to return to the workplace?

For me, the best scenario is for employers and employees to have open and honest dialogue to understand the priorities and expectations of each side, with a view to reaching an arrangement which suits both parties. But, at the end of the day, if the employer needs people working from the office, some or all of the time, then surely the final decision lies with them?

It’s without doubt that some industries/roles lend themselves better to homeworking and, if employers choose not to adopt a more flexible way of working, they may struggle to recruit and retain top talent within their particular sector.  But employers shouldn’t find themselves being bullied into it where it simply doesn’t suit their business or they can’t fully accommodate an employee’s request for home-working.

If you’re facing any challenges in getting your people back into the workplace, please get in touch to find out how we can help you.

support@guardian.online

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