Working from home has been the norm for millions of us since last March when the pandemic hit. Some people have gradually returned to the office although hybrid working is now more the ‘new norm’. However, the government’s advice of ‘work from home where possible’ was partially lifted in July and more and more employers are gradually asking their workforce to return to the office. For the most part, they cannot legally refuse to do so. But what issues will businesses face as employees start demanding a change to their employment contracts, asking for adjustments, a right to hybrid working, or even shortened hours? Read on for our COVID and Reluctant Returners Advice.
Can I make my employee return to the office?
If an employee has been asked to return to work, they will be deemed to be absent without authorisation if they don’t turn up. This could be considered a disciplinary offence although employees do have a right under health and safety rules to protect themselves from danger. In short, if your employees were contracted to work in-house before, you can ask them to come back.
What about hybrid working?
With so many of us successfully having worked from home for many months, it may be more challenging to argue that staff need to be in the workplace to fully do their job. Remember that employees who have worked for you for at least 26 weeks have the legal right to request flexible working, which can include home-working but this is only granted at the employer’s discretion. If you do allow it, make sure you put together a clear home-working agreement.
Consider specific employee circumstances
In situations where a member of staff does refuse to come in, consider their specific circumstances before making any decision in how to respond to their actions. Employers should try to be as understanding and accommodating as possible. Companies can also demonstrate their commitment to safety by emphasising efforts to deep-clean workspaces, providing hand sanitisers and protective gear, and restricting the number of visitors to the building.
You must get an employee’s agreement if you want to make changes to their contract and explain the reasons for the change to them. Once you have reached agreement, update the terms of their written statement of employment conditions and put it in writing within a month to tell them exactly what has changed.
The rule of thumb is that you should be careful not to force staff to return to the workplace as this could lead to a decline in staff retention and/or morale or even cases of automatic unfair dismissal if health and safety issues are raised and found to be unlawfully practised in the workplace.
For confidential advice on any HR matters, including COVID and Reluctant Returners Advice, we provide the opportunity for a 15 minute support call with Director Suzanne Hurndall – book straight to calendar below:
With specialist expertise in leadership, change management, strategy, acquisition, workplace culture, transformation and discrimination, Suzanne is passionate people leader motivated by unlocking the potential of people, teams and organisations through teamwork and collaboration.