Can I still work from home? The latest guidance and Covid-19 rules for employers and staff

People will no longer be expected to work from home as restrictions are lifted across England. The Government has advised a “gradual return” to the workplace from July 19 onwards.

If you want to continue working from home, you can ask your employer, but they are under no obligation to agree. Organisations, however, such as the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development have indicated that workers could see greater freedom in managing their work/life balance moving forward. 

In Scotland and Wales, too, the guidance remains to work from home where possible. 

Across all countries, workers who cannot do their jobs remotely are allowed to continue going in. That includes construction workers and those in healthcare.

Those who work in other people’s homes, such as nannies and plumbers, can continue their business as usual.

Here are your rights if you are being asked to go back into work.  

Is your employer being unreasonable? 

The Government has said that employers are able to ask workers to come in if they are not able to do their job from home. However it has left it up to employers to decide who can and can’t work remotely. 

Some employees have reported feeling pressured into returning to the office and Alexandra Mizzi of Howard Kennedy, a law firm, said employers often use the potential impact on performance as a reason to refuse working from home requests.

“However they will find it much harder to justify refusal if home working has already worked out fairly well,” she added. 

Employees who are asked to go into work should check their company has followed the guidance on how they can protect their workers from contracting the virus. Employers should have conducted a risk assessment before asking anyone to come in.

They should also have followed official guidelines called “Working safely during coronavirus”, which can be found on Gov.uk. These have now been made law, so any business or organisation failing to abide by them could face fines. 

Kate Palmer of Peninsula UK, a consultancy for employers, said: “If a business is doing all it reasonably can to reduce the risk then an increase in cases doesn’t necessarily give employees sufficient reason not to go to work. Before declining to go to work, employees should discuss their position with the employer because an unreasonable refusal to go in could have consequences such as having pay withdrawn or disciplinary procedures.”

Employees who have a reason to believe their workplace has not put in place measures to protect them should first speak to their HR department. If the problem is not resolved they should notify the Health and Safety Executive, which regulates workplaces, and their local council. 

The Government has said it will ensure that schools and universities remain open so that parents are able to continue working as normal. 

Liz McGlone of Bindmans, another legal firm, said:  “Your employer should not be forcing you back into the workplace unless there is a business requirement to do so such as on site work which needs to be done in accordance with your job description. If you lose your job because the office environment is not safe to return yet and you refuse to come in, you could have a claim for unfair dismissal.”