Working from home - where do you stand?

New government guidance

Under new government guidance, you should work from home if you can effectively do so. However, some employers may ask their employees to return to work whilst restrictions are in place - particularly if it is not reasonable to carry out that work at home. For those who are concerned about health problems, or juggling childcare, where do you stand in the eyes of the law?

There are more people who can go to work during this lockdown, including dentists, sports people and estate agents. For all workplaces that remain open, they must carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment to help protect staff and prevent the spread of infection. 

Employers must also follow strict guidance, such as ensuring staff can maintain a 2m social distance, minimise unnecessary visits to the office, frequent cleaning and the provision of hand sanitiser or hand washing facilities.

But, can an employer make employees come to work? For example, if they are shielding, or need to look after children.

Unfortunately, say the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), the national body for HR in the UK, there is no “one size fits all” answer as to whether or not an employer can force employees to go into work as it depends on a number of factors. These factors include the individual’s circumstances, the environment and the type of work an employee is carrying out.

The only exception to this rule is if someone is shielding. If you have been told to shield then you must do so straight away. If you cannot work from home you can ask your employer to place you on furlough, but if that is not possible, you may be able to claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) using your shielding letter as proof that you are unable to work.

What about child care? Due to school closures parents are required to care for their children and homeschool whilst working. The good news is that the Government has now confirmed that employees unable to work due to caring responsibilities resulting from the pandemic, which includes child care, can be asked to be placed on furlough.

Employers do not have to agree to put staff on furlough, but existing government guidelines state that employers and employees are expected to be practical, flexible and sensitive towards employees’ needs. Therefore, it is recommended that employers offer suitable alternatives to furlough, such as offering employees to take time off either as annual leave or unpaid parental leave. It may also be possible to temporarily change working patterns to assist with child care, or offer part time working.

If you are concerned that an employer has unreasonably asked you to return to work, or, as an employer, you would like more advice surrounding furlough, contact Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.