Can your boss actually force you back into the office? Experts explain 3 months ago

Can your boss actually force you back into the office? Experts explain

If you want to keep working from home, here's what you need to know

Boris Johnson last week ditched Plan B restrictions, announcing that work from home (WFH) directives would cease from next Monday ending six weeks of zoom calls from home for many UK employees.

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While the prime minister said Brits should now "speak to their employers" about the return to the new normal, many workers were straight back on the Tube, while others kept their slippers on for a little longer hoping their bosses would let them determine their own work-life-balance a little longer.

So, can your boss make you return to your desk? Here's what you need to know.

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A date with your old desk

Boris

Johnson lifted Plan B measures, including the directive to WFH, on January 19, which had been in place since 8 December.

WFH advice ends on 31 January.

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The PM cited a fall in cases for ending restrictions and suggested Omicron had peaked nationally.

Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, bosses have been urged to encourage working from home "where possible", and in Wales, guidance says employees should not be "required or placed under pressure to return", reports the BBC.

In Scotland, like the UK, the WFH advice ends next Monday, but workers are being encouraged to split their time between the office and home.

But can your boss make you go back?

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Office Two-thirds of Brits don't want to return/Via Unsplash

If your company demands you return to the office, they can only make you do so if your contract details specific work environments, advice suggests.

"When you enter into a contract to work for an employer, you have to comply with 'reasonable management requests'. That means your employer can ask you to return to your normal workplace if your original contract specified that you would be office-based or based elsewhere," Citizens Advice told the Mirror.

A spokesperson for the charity added that employees are within their rights to request to continue working from home, but that doesn't mean bosses have to oblige.

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"Start by having an open conversation with your employer about your wishes, and consider making a flexible working request," the spokesperson advised.

Charlotte Davies, who works as a career expert at LinkedIn, emphasised that everyone will be feeling differently about the transition.

"For some, returning to the office will be a welcome change, while for others it will be something they're feeling a little apprehensive about," she said.

"Our latest UK research from December 2021 - before WFH became government guidance again - showed that 23% of workers felt their confidence had improved since returning to the office after working from home, while 21% said the return had a negative impact on their confidence."

Commuter safety concerns

Commuters still have to wear face masks on the tube Commuting is a big worry for many/Via Getty

Surely, as far as safety goes, working from home is the best option for avoiding Covid?

You'll get no arguments from SAGE, they've found that WFH is one of the most effective ways to reduce social exposure to the virus for obvious reasons. It limits face-to-face contact with both colleagues and the general public when you're faceplanted into someone's armpit on the tube like the pandemic never happened.

As such, Sage says WFH has a "strong impact" against virus transmission and the R number, which represents a disease's ability to spread.

People are naturally concerned about commuting again, regardless of the mask mandate.

"If you're close enough to smell someone's garlic breath on public transport," Dr Julian Tang, a clinical virologist at the University of Leicester, told the BBC,  "then you're also potentially inhaling any virus that's carried with it."

Will my boss keep me safe?

Manager Via Unsplash

Two years into the pandemic, most workplaces should already be Covid-safe, with a number of policies in place to limit contact between staff members and these should continue.

Employers must follow the official safety guidance, as well as carry out risk assessments for all employees in the office.

Safety measures include minimising external visitors, improving ventilation, using one-way systems, and additional cleaning.

"If your boss is asking you to return to the workplace or stay at home and you don't feel comfortable, you should speak to other members and your union rep immediately - they may feel the same about the situation," suggested a spokesperson for the union TUC. "If you raise the issue collectively with your employer, they're much more likely to listen."

Covid, it's complicated!

Sainsbury's are still requiring masks/Via Getty

When WFH was abolished for a brief moment in 2021, employers across the UK were faced with moral conundrums, but very often, legal ones too. Everything from long covid to mental health issues was cited as reasons for an alternative work arrangement, and now we are back in that same position.

Last year, as the nation approached "freedom day", vulnerable people dreaded the restrictions being lifted.

"It feels like the Hunger Games and we just have to endure it," Brogan Taylor, who is immunocompromised, told Huffpo at the time. "There's a large group of immunocompromised people like me for whom the vaccine isn't as effective and no one seems to be taking action or considering us. I feel disposable."

The issue is undoubtedly complicated by officials flip-flopping on key issues and offering contradictory advice.

While mandated mask-wearing is due to be abolished on Thursday, Sadiq Khan stated it would still be required on London's tubes. Similarly, Sainsbury's announced masks would still be needed in their aisles, and Health Secretary Sajid Javid has admitted he will still wear a mask.

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