Now the original ‘Freedom Day’ of June 21 has passed, all eyes are on when the remaining lockdown restrictions will finally end.
July 19 is widely expected to be the date when limits will be removed. The eternally optimistic may still be holding out for July 5, but the odds are against an earlier release.
When the work from home advice does change, then what next for those whose working lives have been thrown upside down by the last 15 months or more.
Back in March 2020 (remember then?) working from home was seen as a novelty, a nuisance or completely impossible. There were all manner of dire warnings about why it could never work.
But millions of people accepted it, have adapted to it and, in some cases, have no desire to go back to the way it was before.
At Merrick, the team was previously as office based as any set of family lawyers. They enjoyed their days on the road with #LawtoDoor but the majority of the time it was central Manchester for work.
But necessity brought change and working from home (or WFH) was the norm for a time. But now they’re back working a hybrid week so office numbers at any time are kept to a safe level.
It’s a similar story for many office-based businesses. Gradually those who really can’t work from home have slowly found themselves joined by colleagues either looking to get ‘back to normal’ or encouraged to return by employers.
But what’s the position going to be when the guidance is removed. Can an employer insist on its workforce returning? Or is flexible and home working here to stay?
Current guidance in England says employers should complete a risk assessment and take all steps to prevent workplace transmission. This includes ensuring 2m social distancing or 1m-plus with additional precautions, minimising visitors, bringing in one-way systems, staggering start and end times and frequent cleaning routines.
There’s detailed guidance for every manner of work setting on the government website.
If an employee feels their place of work may not be safe, then that should be raised with the employer, or union or other representative, in the first instance. If further help is needed then check with the relevant authority for the type of workplace. The local authority or the Health & Safety Executive cover many different settings. There’s a list of who is responsible for where on the H&S website.
What, though, if you don’t want to return to the office? Well, the good news is you can ask to remain remote working – but your employer’s not obliged to let you.
Most organisations have a process for dealing with flexible working requests. Legally they are required to approach them in a ‘reasonable manner’.
Give the reasons for your request. If possible, show how the new way of working has not affected your performance since restrictions were first brought in. Previously some employers may have been sceptical about whether having staff working remotely was a good idea. Now, most have experience of exactly that and therefore a good idea of what works or doesn’t for them.
If the employer doesn’t accept your request, maybe suggest a compromise. A split week working between office and home suits many people. It can be tailored to fit around family commitments or lifestyle choices and may appeal to cost conscious employers.
It’s likely the issue of whether more people can work from home permanently will remain high profile for some time, particularly as we battle to stop any further peaks in Covid infections.
It was reported recently that the government may even consult on a change to the law to make it impossible for employers to insist on staff attending the workplace unless they can show it is essential.
→ We’ve written previously on overcoming anxiety about leaving lockdown.
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