The Government has updated its COVID-secure guidance (“Guidance”) to reflect the latest guidance on working from home now that we have entered into step 2 of the Covid-19 Response Spring 2021 (“Roadmap”) (see our earlier update here for further background on the Roadmap).
In relation to offices and contact centres (although note that the guidance for workplaces in other sectors has also been updated), the Guidance now states that:
1. Office workers who can work from home should do so;
2. Anyone else who cannot work from home should go to their place of work;
3. However, employers should consider whether home working is appropriate for workers facing mental or physical health difficulties, or those with a particularly challenging home working environment.
As explained in our earlier update, whilst it may no longer be a legal requirement to work from home, it is likely to be difficult for employers to compel employees to come into the workplace in direct contravention of clear Government guidance. It is not until 21 June 2021 at the earliest that the working from home guidance will be reviewed as part of a complete review of social distancing measures and other long-term measures.
However, point 3 above is new and is helpful for employers. It allows them to consider whether it is appropriate for workers who may be facing particular difficulties working from home, relating to their mental or physical health, to start coming into the office now. It therefore gives employers some scope for re-opening their offices, albeit in limited circumstances.
If employers wish to make use of point 3 above, we would urge them to take advice. The issues at play should be carefully thought through and documented in order to minimise the potential for employment claims, particularly in the context of constructive unfair dismissal and discrimination.