Will I have to go back to the office from July 19?

WORKERS face a return to offices this summer, as Covid "work from home" restrictions are set to end on July 19.

But what are your rights and will you have go back in five days a week again? Here's where you stand.

Rules for Brits to work from home "where possible" because of the Coronavirus pandemic will be lifted, the Prime Minister announced on Monday.

Millions of us have worked from home since Covid first hit last March, with visits to offices few and far between, or in some cases non-existent.

But from July 19 it will be left up to employers to decide how and when staff will be back in the office.

What's the current guidance on working from home?

Brits were first told to work from home, if they can, back in March 2020 when the country went into lockdown for the first time.

Efforts to get the country and economy back on track in August and September 2020 saw some workers return to offices for a brief spell, if at all.

But work from home was once again imposed in October 2020 as cases of Covid began to rise again and the nation was plunged into a second lockdown.

The work from home advice has continued through the third national lockdown which began at the start of this year in January.

The "work from home if you can rule" applies to anyone who is able to do their job from their living room or home office.

It was mainly key workers this rule didn't apply to, like hardworking nurses, police, transport workers, and supermarket staff.

But as the country has reopened, many people working in shops and pubs have also returned to their jobs too.

As part of the government's roadmap for lifting lockdown, the last stage of relaxing rules is expected on July 19.

The guidance now is:

  • Office workers who can work from home should do so.
  • Anyone unable to work from home should go to their workplace.
  • Bosses should consider whether home working is appropriate for workers facing mental or physical health difficulties, or those with a particularly challenging home working environment.
  • Employers should consult with their staff to decide who needs to come into the workplace.
  • They should also consider the impact of employees travelling on public transport and give extra consideration to people at higher risk.

What's the new guidance for working from home from July 19?

In a press conference this on Monday Boris Johnson said that Britain's vaccine rollout will allow ministers to swap "Government diktats" with the public's "individual judgement" – but stressed "the pandemic is far from over".

Forced mask wearing will be ditched as well as all limits on large gatherings and social distancing. 

Subject to a final decision on July 12, the rules on working from home will change.

Firms will be allowed to tell employees how and where they should work. 

Will I have to go back to the office from July 19 and can my boss force me?

If and when you go back to the office will be up to your employer.

There will no longer be any legal rules in place requiring that you work from home from July 19.

But your employer must still ensure that you have a safe working environment.

The ending of lockdown rules doesn’t mean that employer's responsibility to staff just falls away, Danielle Parsons, an employment partner at law firm Irwin Mitchell told The Sun.

"There will be risk assessment and I'll be surprised if social distancing in offices comes to an end."

But can your employer force you back?

Ms Parsons said: "As an employer you must comply with a reasonable request from management."

"You can't reasonably return, for instance because it feels unsafe to travel. Workers shouldn't be forced back, or public health put at risk."

What are my employment rights?

THERE’S no legal right to flexible working in the UK.

While you can make a request for flexible working more generally, (and you must be employed for at least 26 weeks to do that), your employer does not have to give it to you.

If you make a request for flexible working and you don't get it, you have to wait 12 months before you ask again.

An official flexible working request is usually made for a permanent change to working hours, like early starts and finishes to get kids to and from school.

Unless you've agreed with your employer to work flexibly like this, there's no legal obligation to let you.

What one person might find safe, might be different for someone else she adds.

Childcare, especially with the school summer holidays approaching, could also pose a challenge for workers returning to the office.

Cases of Covid are also continuing to rise, though links with hospitalisations an deaths have been weakened as millions have been jabbed.

Some businesses will be happy for the workforce to stay at home, says Alan Price, the boss at at HR software firm BrightHR, especially if they have created good work from home set-ups.

He said: "Other businesses who have noticed a drop in productivity during this homeworking period will be keen to use the flexibility that the Government stance will bring and ask staff to come back – this could be a full return to the office, or under a hybrid working arrangement."

But they should be prepared for some "difficult conversations" with poeple who don't want to give up the benefits of working from home, he added.

Employers should work with staff individually to come to an agreement on returning that works for both.

Team meetings and one-to-ones with staff are likely to work better than a blanket one-sized fits all approach.

Ms Parsons also adds that forcing workers back can damage working relationships, and risks potential legal claims.

She said: "Now more than ever, people are concerned about behaviour of companies to workers. Increased flexibility is more important and employers need to be mindful of this and think about accommodating worker's needs."

Many well known companies have said they will offer flexible working after the pandemic, including supermarket giant Asda and department store John Lewis for office-based staff.

Anyone who's unhappy with returning to the office should discuss it with their employer in the first instance to try and come to an agreement.

If they fail to reach a resolution then they can seek advice from a union rep, if they are a member, ACAS, Citizen's Advice or a local legal advice centre.

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