These have been incredibly strange times for everyone. We have dusty offices to prove it. With many employers given little choice but to allow their staff to work from home during the pandemic, everyone’s a little unsure as to what happens next.
With ‘freedom day’ fast approaching, you might be wondering what right you have to demand your employees come back into the office. There are lots of reasons this might be your preferred way of working, including finding it easier to communicate with team members and an effective way of fostering a positive culture.
But lots of employees are used to home working now. It increases work-life balance by reducing the amount of time spent commuting and lots of people are enjoying being in their home environment. It also makes things like childcare unnecessary or less relied upon, and this can really improve the stress levels of your employees.
For these reasons and many more, we’d suggest you seriously weigh up the pros and cons of bringing your staff back into work in the way they used to work before.
But if you’re absolutely certain you want things to go back to the way they were, here’s where you stand as far as the Government is concerned.
What’s Boris Johnson saying?
The Government is about to cease asking people to work from home if possible, as part of a roadmap, which we’re expecting on July 19th. But despite the Government lifting the work from home guidance, unions are asking for a legal right to flexible working for all employees.
Downing Street says that isn’t an option. They’re considering making working from home the ‘default’ option, and they’ve stopped short of ordering everyone back to work.
This means that employers and employees are expected to work it all out between themselves. That’s easier said than done.
So what do you do if you have some staff members who really don’t want to return to an office?
Your immediate reaction might be to threaten people who don’t want to come back into an office with dismissal, but we would really advise that you don’t do that, especially if your staff have been performing very well whilst working from home.
Instead, unions are advising employees not to take a blanket approach to determining who comes back to work and who does not.
One size does not fit all, and so whilst you might have some staff who are eager to return to the office, others might be extremely nervous about doing so.
This could be for a number of reasons. They might still be concerned about COVID-19, for example, especially if they are frequently around people who are at high risk if they catch it. Or perhaps they have anxiety generally, and need a phased approach to returning to work.
Communication is key
We’d really recommend that you speak to your staff as the individuals they are and find out how they’re feeling when it comes to returning to work. Demanding that everyone makes an immediate and drastic life change is unlikely to go down well with everyone, so we suggest you tread carefully.
That being said, you can do that, if you need to. There will be no legal right for your employees to work from home, so their request to do so will not be legally protected.
However, the Government is consulting on making flexible working a default option unless there is a good reason not to. This guidance would be similar to other flexible working options, such as part-time hours. Whether you adopt it or not would depend on how open you are to permanently changing the way you work, and how necessary you think it is that people work from an office.
The Prime Minister believes there are many benefits from working in an office environment, including collaboration with colleagues, and you might think this too.
However you feel, you should make sure you’re communicating clearly and fairly with your employees about why you’re making decisions.
Beyond the fact that the advice will no longer be to work from home if possible, we don’t really know. We’re hoping we’ll find out quickly, but there’s no real and official information.
But there is some exploration of the idea that staff should be given the right to request flexible working conditions – including working from home – unless employees can provide a good reason why they should not. Since we’re eighteen months into a period in which staff members have likely largely been working from home, it is very likely that they are able to prove that they can be productive when they are not in the office, so traditional concerns about managing workloads might not have much weight if employers intend to use them as a ‘good reason’.
If you’re concerned about bringing your staff back to work and where you stand legally, we can help. Call JMR Solicitors on 0161 491 3933, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.