Posted Wednesday 2nd September 2020
The government in England is strongly encouraging employees to get back to the office. For some employees this is welcome as the challenges of working from home have been considerable, ranging from cramped workspaces, lack of private, confidential space, carer challenges and unsuitable equipment. The lack of informal but vital face to face interaction has also been felt. For others, the reduction in time wasted in heavy commuting, a quieter space than the office and the chance to have greater autonomy in the arrangement of the working day have been very attractive.
Workers in retail and hospitality sectors particularly in city centres have been badly hit as those businesses face the challenge of fewer office workers returning, even if local business in suburbs and small towns have benefitted from customers who would otherwise be commuting elsewhere.
At present it seems that many employers whose employees can work at home will continue with at least some form of homeworking arrangement for the foreseeable future. Employers vary enormously from those who insist on their employees returning to the office, those who provide some optionality and those whose employees will remain in full working from home mode into 2021.
Many employers have, broadly-speaking, two groups of staff: those on full or partial furlough and those who have been working from home either some or all of the time. For some employers, redundancy consultations are in place or planned. It is important that staff on furlough are not automatically selected for redundancy purely because they are or have been on furlough. This is especially so where there are teams or departments of mixes of employees, i.e. some furloughed and some not. Selection processes need to be fair otherwise redundancies can be unfair dismissals.
For employees who are returning to the office, they have a right to expect a safe working environment. There is fairly extensive government guidance on this here. Reema Jethwa’s blog on health and safety considerations is here.
Where patterns of work are changing again, it’s important for employers to revisit the new arrangements put in place earlier in the year when Covid-19 hit. Employment contracts and any agreements to vary need to be revisited to ensure that these either work as they stand or are amended by agreement, to take account of any new or continuing working arrangements.
Holidays received particular treatment under the furlough scheme. Employers need to plan for employees whose holidays are held over into next year and beyond. There is a risk of significant numbers of employees all seeking to take deferred holiday entitlement at the same time.
The key as always is communication and consultation. We don’t know what the rest of the year holds. It’s important however to ensure fair treatment and to retain the goodwill and engagement of employees who proved their adaptability and flexibility in the lockdown.
This article is for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action.
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