Who can go back to work from Saturday? How work from home rules change on August 1 – Mirror Online - Freelance Rack

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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Who can go back to work from Saturday? How work from home rules change on August 1 – Mirror Online

Huge changes for millions of workers in England are coming in from Saturday 1 August.

For months, people have been working at home in kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms due to the threat of coronavirus.

But from Saturday, firms can for the first time ask people to come into the office, even if it’s not absolutely necessary for them to be there.

It will be a wave of relief for millions cooped up at home – and for the workers in stricken city-centre pubs.

But for others it will be a time of great worry as they juggle childcare, health issues and worries about a second wave of coronavirus.

And the government has refused to guarantee a legal right to work from home – meaning it’ll have to be a conversation you have with your employer.

Here are all your questions answered as the rules change in England.

What is the guidance right now?

The current guidance for England is that if you can work from home, you should work from home.

If you can’t do your job from home, you are advised to go back into your workplace if possible.

In return, your boss should make your workplace ‘Covid-secure’ to reduce the risk of transmission.

This means lots of things but can include extra cleaning, seating people further apart, and putting up screens and floor markings. Detailed guides for each type of workplace are here.

The exception is if you’re ‘shielding’ due to being extremely clinically vulnerable to Covid-19. If you’re shielding, you should still work from home or – if your employer won’t pay you – claim Statutory Sick Pay.

What is changing on August 1?

Employers are going to be given more discretion to bring people back (file photos) (Image: Getty Images)

Instead of the government telling everyone who can work from home to do so, firms will decide who comes into the workplace.

Announcing the change, Boris Johnson said: “We are going to give employers more discretion.

“That could mean of course continuing to work from home, which is one way of working safely and which has worked for many employers and employees.

“Or it could mean making workplaces safe by following Covid Secure guidelines.”

Shielding is also ending on August 1 – more of this below – so many of those 2.2million people will be asked to go back to the workplace at the same time.

Why are things changing?

Boris Johnson announced the move amid jitters about the economy (Image: PA)

Boris Johnson announced the change amid growing fears city centre economies will grind to a halt.

Sandwich shops, pubs and restaurants face going bankrupt if workers are kept away completely – and with them will go thousands of staff.

Coronavirus rates had also been falling steadily before the PM’s announcement on July 17, though there have been a number of local outbreaks since.

And there is – at least in theory – a decent Test and Trace system in place meaning any office outbreaks can be detected quickly.

However, the change isn’t without controversy. The PM’s own Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance warned on July 16: “We are still at a time when distancing measures are important.

“Of the various distancing measures, working from home remains a perfectly good option for many companies because it is easy to do.

“A number of companies do not think it is detrimental to productivity, and in that situation I see absolutely no reason to change it.”

Should I take public transport?

People may now use public transport for “non-essential” journeys (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

People are asked to take alternative means to get to work if they can – walking, cycling or even driving.

But people may also now use public transport for “non-essential” journeys, even though they are encouraged to use other options if possible.

So yes, you may use public transport to get to work. Though you will need to wear a face covering and are advised to avoid rush hour if possible.

Can I still work from home if I want?

Ultimately this is a decision for your firm

If you can do your job perfectly well from home, you should make that argument to your boss.

The government is not ordering everyone to go back to work. Instead, it is saying everyone can go back.

In reality, many offices will have far lower capacity than before so many companies are likely to still have some staff working from home.

However, ultimately this is a decision for your firm.

The big difference is that from August 1, there is no government rule on keeping you away from HQ – it’s a conversation you have to have with your boss.

Can my boss force me to go back if I don’t want to?

A woman wearing a protective mask shops in a coffee shop in Berlin
Employers can ask people to return to work (Image: Getty Images)

No one can physically force you to go into an office of course. But if you’re talking about facing the threat of the sack – then yes, basically they can.

As long as the workplace is safe, employers can ask people to return to work.

Many people may have their usual place of work embedded in their employment contract.

And there is not a legal right to demand to work from home. There’s a legal right to request flexible working, but your company only has to engage with your request properly – they don’t have to grant it.

The government says firms should “consult closely with their employees” on what they decide.

But Acas says: “If someone refuses to attend work without a valid reason, it could result in disciplinary action.”

It’s a slightly different kettle of fish if the workplace is unsafe – more on this below.

Can my boss force me to go back if it’s not safe?

No – if your workplace is not ‘Covid-secure’, your firm should not be asking you back.

However, critics say there is no easy redress for workers who believe bosses are breaking the rules.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman urged firms to take “socially responsible” decisions, adding: “We’re not prescribing what businesses should do, provided that they make the environment safe.”

Rogue firms can be reported to the Health and Safety Executive, or workers could bring a complaint or go to arbitration service Acas.

And employment lawyer Matt Gingell suggested such issues could end up at an employment tribunal.

These can all be lengthy processes which take many months to resolve.

He said: “If an employee refuses to return to the workplace due to the employee reasonably believing imminent and serious danger and is then dismissed for that reason the employee could, depending on the circumstances, have a claim for unfair dismissal.

“The requirement that the employee has to believe that there is imminent and serious danger, does limit the right.”

What if I’m pregnant or have asthma?

Pregnant women are in the ‘clinically vulnerable’ group

If you are pregnant or have asthma, diabetes, heart disease or liver disease, you are classed as “clinically vulnerable”.

This means you are not sick enough to be shielding, but that you are at a higher risk from Covid-19.

If you fall into this category, you can still go back to work where possible.

However, you should “take extra care in observing social distancing”.

If you can work from home, your employer should help you to do so. If you can’t work from home, you should be offered the “safest available on-site roles, enabling you to stay 2 metres away from others.”

This could mean being placed in a different role.

If you can’t stay two metres from others, your employer should assess “whether this involves an acceptable level of risk.”

If unacceptable risks cannot be removed, pregnant women are entitled to be suspended on full pay.

A full list of conditions for the “clinically vulnerable” group is here.

What if I have children?

Working from home hasn’t been great for everyone (Image: Getty Images/Westend61)

There is no extra childcare help that came with the “back to work” order – despite it starting just as the summer holidays got under way.

Parents of the youngest children can get up to 30 hours a week of free childcare, and schools are being encouraged to run catch-up schemes.

Parents are also entitled to up to four weeks per year of parental leave for each child – but this is unpaid. It is also capped at 18 weeks for each child between birth and their 18th birthday.

Labour’s Keir Starmer has said the Prime Minister is putting parents in an “impossible position”.

He said: “Despite ordering millions of parents back to the office, the Prime Minister has refused to provide any extra help for families, penalising parents by putting them in an impossible position.

“Parents got a back-to-work notice just as the summer holidays began. But they got no support for structured activities, no summer catch-up schemes, and no support for a childcare sector on its knees.”

What if I’ve been shielding?

Shielding ends on August 1, with people able to leave their homes more widely (Image: Lee McLean / SWNS)

Shielding for 2.2million “extremely clinically vulnerable” people will end in England on August 1.

There may be exceptions to this if there is a local outbreak in your area. Please check with your local council.

If you have been shielding, the government advises that you can return to work from August 1 – if you can’t work from home.

However, you should adopt strict social distancing, and “remain cautious”.

What if I’m on furlough?

Furlough will not end on August 1 and continues right up to October 31.

However, it will start winding down, with firms having to contribute some of the costs of their workers from August 1.

That means firms are likely to take more staff off furlough or – in the worst-case scenario – make them redundant.

This is a conversation you should have with your employer.

No new staff can be put on furlough – but if you were furloughed previously, you can be “re-furloughed”. Again, this is a conversation to have with your boss.



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