More people in England will soon be encouraged to return to their workplace.
But with coronavirus still a concern, what are your rights?
Why am I being encouraged to go in to work?
Since the start of August, employers in England have had more freedom to decide how staff should work, whether at home or in the workplace.
But in September ministers will actively promote returning to the workplace. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that “for a lot of people, it will be the right time”.
The head of the business leaders’ organisation, the CBI, said city centres could become “ghost towns” unless more is done to encourage the return of office workers.
Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said letting staff work from home had helped keep firms afloat during the pandemic. But with offices standing empty, thousands of local businesses that rely on passing trade were suffering.
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Mr Shapps told the BBC it was also important for many young workers living in shared accommodation to return to offices for the benefit of “their mental health”.
But he conceded others would carry on more flexibly – and that the return of staff in his own department was a “gradual process”.
What can I expect from my bosses?
Employers should talk to workers about the next steps and only bring them back to their place of work if it is safe to do so.
For those who do return to work in England, government guidance on working safely across a range of sectors is available.
There is separate advice for Scotland,Wales and Northern Ireland.
Employers must follow a strict code of measures, which can include:
- Observing the “1m plus” rule of social distancing
- Introducing one-way systems to minimise contact
- Frequent cleaning of objects and communal areas
- In shops, storing returned items for 72 hours before returning them to the sales floor
- Table service only in indoor pubs and restaurants
- Venues expected to collect customers’ contact details for the NHS Test and Trace system
If employees are unhappy and their employer has not addressed their concerns, they should contact their local authority or the Health and Safety Executive, who can force firms to take action.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) says companies should publish risk assessments, so employees know what safety measures are being taken. However, not all firms have done so.
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Can my boss make me return to work?
Employment law expert Simon Rice-Birchall, from Eversheds Sutherland, says people can’t assume they will be paid if they don’t go to work.
However, employers should be “extremely careful” about deciding to discipline or sack them.
Under employment law, workers have the right to walk off the job to protect themselves from “serious and imminent” danger, he says.
Will vulnerable people have to return to work?
There are 2.2 million people in England classified as being at high-risk, including those who have received organ transplants or are on immunosuppression drugs.
Employers must be “especially careful” to protect such people, says Tom Neil, from arbitration service Acas.
This may include varying their responsibilities, or keeping them on furlough until it is safer for them to return.
However, they no longer need to shield and may return to work if their workplace is Covid-secure.
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How do I get to work safely?
Face coverings are currently required on public transport across the whole of the UK.
Employers are encouraged to stagger working times outside rush hour and provide parking and bike storage.
Mr Shapps acknowledged the return of pupils to school and parents to work could “create pressures” on the public transport system.
“We’ll be watching those very carefully and looking, for example, to run additional services where we see those problems bubble up,” he said.
Acas says employers should discuss with returning staff how they will travel to and from work, and offer help where possible.
Are you looking forward to going back to the office or would you prefer to work from home permanently? If so, why? Share your experiences by emailing [email protected].
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