Can I Be Made to Go Back to the Office?

Posted on Monday, July 19, 2021 by The Workplace AdvisorNo comments

Throughout the pandemic, many people in office support jobs in London have been working from home, and may not have even seen their office since March 2020. In fact, those in new roles or temporary jobs that became permanent may not have ever been inside their office if they were onboarded remotely!

Many of us are averse to change, and we understandably have concerns about returning to an office environment. We are being asked increasingly if bosses can force people to go back, so we thought we’d dive into the facts of the matter.

The short answer and the long answer

The very short answer, without any caveats, is that yes, your boss can insist that you work from the office.

However, the long answer is a little more complicated and is covered clearly by Shah Qureshi, a partner and head of employment at the law firm Irwin Mitchell. He points out that under the Health and Safety at Work Act, “employers have an obligation to ensure that there is a safe working environment, a safe workplace, to which an employee returns.”

He adds, “There is an obligation to return to the office where an employer requires you to do so, and your normal workplace is the office, but there is a duty of care that the employer has to ensure that everything is as safe as possible.”

How can your employer make your office safe?

Lots of employers went to great lengths to make their offices Covid-secure ahead of restrictions being removed today. There are various ways in which they can do this. A few strategies include:

  • Making social distancing possible

    Employers can space out desks, creating more room between them, as well as using screens where needed. Hot desking may be more problematic, and will require higher levels of sanitation and cleaning. Employers are also using a hybrid model, balancing home and office work, to reduce the number of people in the office at any one time.

  • One-way walking systems

    An easy way to make things move Covid-secure is to ensure a one-way system applies to the flow of foot traffic throughout the office. Signage and markers on the floor can help, and then individual employees will need to get used to the new way of moving around the space.

  • Sanitation

Plenty of hand-washing and hand-sanitising stations should be provided, and employees encouraged to use them. A regular cleaning routine should be prioritised.

What can you do if you don’t feel safe going back to the office?

Going back to the office will be an adjustment for everyone but especially those who perhaps feel more vulnerable and rely on public transport. Speak to your employer about the safety measures they are putting in place and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.

If you’ve decided that office working is no longer for you, then the good news is that many employers have used the pandemic as an opportunity to make their operations entirely remote. There are vacancies available with these employers—it just takes a little more effort to find them! If you’d like to explore your options, then get in touch on 020 7870 7177.


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