When we were told to work from home in March 2020, none of us could have anticipated that hundreds of thousands of people across the UK would still be tapping away from their living rooms, bedrooms or kitchen tables well over a year later.
But the work from home guidance is set to end, as England enters stage 4 of lockdown on July 19, dissolving almost all pandemic restrictions.
Not everyone will want to go back to the office, though. With Covid cases rising, some may be worried it’s too soon to be sitting side-by-side without face masks all day – particularly those who’ve only been single jabbed, or people in at-risk groups.
Others who’ve enjoyed greater flexibility with remote working may simply be asking why we need to return to the old system, when we’ve proved we can do our jobs without a commute each day.
So, what are your rights if you’d rather wfh for good, or at least adopt a half-and-half hybrid system? Citizens Advice has answered the need-to-know questions.
Can my employer ask me to return to the workplace?
The short answer is yes. “When you enter into a contract to work for an employer you have to comply with ‘reasonable management requests’. That means your employer can ask you to return to your normal workplace if your original contract specified that you would be office-based or based elsewhere,” Citizens Advice explains.
In practice, many employers are considering moving to a blended working model, with some time at home and some time in the office, so find out what’s being discussed in your company.
“You can ask to keep working from home, but that doesn’t mean your employer has to agree,” says Citizens Advice. “Start by having an open conversation with your employer about your wishes, and consider making a flexible working request, which is a legal right all employees have. You can include your reasons why working from home is better for you and will also help the business.”
What I’m worried about safety measures at work?
Your employer has a duty under the law, and under your contract, to ensure that your workplace does not pose a risk to your health and safety.
“Current guidance says employers should complete a Covid risk assessment and take steps to prevent transmission, including frequent cleaning and social distancing. This is due to be updated,” Citizens Advice says.
“While wearing a mask in an enclosed space will no longer be mandatory, employers will still be free to set their own policies or rules in place to require workers or customers to wear masks.”
If you are unhappy with safety measures at your workplace, you could report your employer to the Health and Safety Executive, but ideally you and your employer can solve the issues together.
I’m uncomfortable taking public transport. What are my options?
Your employer’s duty is limited to things that are under their control, so there’s no clear legal position about whether it has to take into account the risks you face when travelling to and from work, says Citizens Advice.
“That said, your employer should listen to your concerns if you’re worried about having to use public transport after being called back into work,” it adds. “You could reach an arrangement that you’re comfortable with, for example, asking to travel at quieter times of the day.”
What happens if I need to self-isolate?
You must tell your employer that you have to self-isolate – whether you’ve tested positive for Covid or have come into contact with the virus. Citizens Advice recommends telling them in writing, so you have a record for later use.
“If you’re unable to work from home, you may be entitled to benefits, sick pay or a self-isolation payment of £500 from your local council. If you’ve been furloughed before by your employer, [they] might also be able to furlough you for the period you need to self-isolate. See the Citizens Advice website for more information.”
Remember that the rules on self-isolating are changing. From 16 August, if you’ve had your second vaccination, you won’t need to self-isolate if you have been in contact with someone who’s tested positive for coronavirus. If you have symptoms you’ll need to self-isolate until you get tested.