Employees are equipped with laptops, remote collaboration tools have been downloaded en masse, and IT teams have stepped up VPNs to support safe remote working across entire organisations. Almost three months into lockdown, the workforce is only just adapting to a new routine away from whiteboard meetings and after-work drinks – but employers, for their part, are planning for an eventual return to the physical office.

If I can work from home, should I?

Yes. According to Government guidance, those who have the ability to work from home should do “for the foreseeable future”.

I am worried about my health – am I allowed to work from home?

Government advice remains that vulnerable people should have zero social contact, but many are finding they are still being told to go into work.

While you cannot force an employer to allow you to work from home, if you have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks you have the right to apply for flexible working.

Employers must deal with your request in a “reasonable manner” according to the Government, which requires them to assess the advantages and disadvantages, as well as discussing the request with an employee. You are also entitled to an appeals process.

If the employer does not handle the case in a reasonable manner, the employee is entitled to take the employer to an employment tribunal.

I have been furloughed, when can I return to work?

Nothing has changed here. When you can return to work is dependent on your employer, who has applied for you to be furloughed.

The government furlough scheme has now been extended to October 2020 but when planning a return to the workplace your employer may decide that all the existing workforce are not needed. In this case you have several options:

  • Agree reduced working hours
  • To be furloughed for a further period, at the new grant rate
  • Company may consider strategies including natural wastage, recruitment freezes, stopping or reducing overtime, offering early retirement to volunteers (subject to complying with age discrimination law), retraining or redeployment, sabbaticals and secondments, pay freezes, short-time working and other alternatives to redundancy
  • You may be redundant (in this case employer must pay redundancy pay if you are eligible)

How should I get to work?

If you cannot work from home, the Government have asked those going to work to avoid using public transport where possible and instead travel by driving, walking, or cycling. Although, as the economy restarts the Government acknowledges that transport use will increase.

Companies are being encouraged to stagger working hours, and commuters are being asked to wear face coverings while on public transport, and preferably home-made ones.

New office rules

Much of the business’ habits, from attending client events to shaking hands, have been disrupted by the pandemic, and this is likely to be reflected in the physical workplace, too. When you come back to office you might see new measures put in place, such as:

  • Increased distance between workplaces
  • Strengthen hygiene procedures
  • Provided hand sanitizers and personal protective equipment
  • New posters and guidance
  • Temperature checks to visitors entering the building
  • Limit to the number of staff attending team meetings and in-person visits to the office

You might be also asked to clean your workplace on regular basis and wash your hands more often.

Worth adding that, if you develop symptoms of COVID-19 – or you live with someone who does – you will still need to self-isolate for 14 days. The rules around this have not changed and information can be found on the government website.

The new normal

A term that we are already starting to get use to.  its important that we also start accepting and getting used to the new normal.  Be cautious and work towards returning to work where possible will ensure you return to the normal routine as much as possible. You should encourage and start the dialog with your employer. Although working from home might be an option it is not always a practical option for some. We all do not have dedicated rooms that we can call an office at home.  Try looking for local workstations or shared offices. Your employer might consider covering the cost.

Changes to the current lockdown restrictions are gradual and affect different sectors differently. They are also likely to fluctuate, and stricter measures could be imposed, possibly with very little notice. There is now sufficient guidance on specific steps, principles, and measures to be taken in workplaces and elsewhere for every employer will need to consider future planning. Organisations therefore need to use this time to prepare and plan their next steps.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to give us a call on 0208 249 6007 for free consultation. Outsourced ACC team has successfully come back from quarantine to ‘new’ office with all the measures put in place.

Written by Irina Stucere

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