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Can your employer force you back into the office?

Published date
There’s been reports of people being forced back to workplaces without proper consultation, even as Covid-19 cases remain high, or forced to stay at home due to money-saving office closures. Employers should consult with unions to manage this period positively - rather than issuing directives.

So, what can you do if you feel like you're being forced to stay at home or go back into the office?  

Talk to your colleagues

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. 

If you raise the issue collectively with your employer, they’re much more likely to listen. Employers shouldn’t be imposing changes on anyone. You and your colleagues should clearly lay out what you want and why it’s beneficial for both you and your employer.  

There’s still limited access to childcare at the moment, so parents and carers may need specific arrangements. Your boss should be working with you and your workmates to understand this.  

And suggesting pay cuts for home workers, as we’ve heard in the media, is the last thing employers should be doing. People have shown huge flexibility during the pandemic and worked hard to keep the country going – now is not the time to be making threats.   

Brush up on health and safety 

There are lots of factors that your employer needs to think about at this time. Primarily, health and safety – is your workplace safe to be in and has your employer considered the mental health impact of returning to the workplace? 

This could include feelings of isolation with continued homeworking or anxiety about returning to the workplace. Our latest webinar provides all you need to know on health and safety at work since government restrictions were lifted.  

Know your rights 

You have certain rights when deciding where to work: 

  1. Employment contract 

Check your employment contract. You might have a “place of work” included and, it could be a breach of contact if your employer unilaterally imposes a change of location, without consent. This is important if your employer is saying you must work from home permanently.  

  1. Safety 

The virus hasn't gone away, and workers will want to know what their employer is doing to keep them safe. It's a legal requirement for bosses to carry out a workplace risk assessment. Employers must also carry out the actions that come from their risk assessment – this could include continuing with home working where possible.  

If you think there is a serious or imminent danger to you or your colleagues, you may have the right to leave work depending on the specific circumstances. The relevant law is Section 44 of the Employment Act 1996 and it covers all employees. More information on your health and safety rights on returning to work can be found here

And remember, your employer still has a duty to keep you safe when you’re working from home – see our guidance on risk assessments for homeworkers.

  1. Flexible working requests

Under current law, all employees have the right to request flexible working arrangements, this can include a request to change your location either permanently or for part of your working time. Any employee can make a request, you don’t have to be a parent or carer, but you must have been in the job for 26 weeks and you can only make one request per year.  

Employers have to review these requests fairly and respond within 3 months. They can turn down requests for ‘business reasons’ - but we're campaigning for better flexible working rights for everyone. 

  1. Reasonable adjustments 

Employers have a legal duty under the Equality Act 2010 to proactively make reasonable adjustments to remove, reduce or prevent any disadvantages that disabled workers face. The law recognises that to secure equality for disabled people, work may need to be structured differently, support given, and barriers removed. This can include working from home.  

If you’re a disabled worker and have been working from home successfully during the pandemic, continuing to work from home could be a reasonable adjustment that your employer can provide, should you want it – but bosses must also provide reasonable adjustments in the workplace.  

  1. Right to time off in emergencies to look after children 

There are huge gaps in childcare provision leaving parents without the support they need to juggle work and care. If your employer has given you short notice to return to the workplace, by law anyone classed as an employee has the right to take time off work to help someone who is dependent on them in an unexpected event.

A dependent includes children but also a partner, someone you live with or a person who relies on you to make care arrangements. If you’re looking at any of these options, talk to your union and they can support you.

Finally, if you’re not in a union, join one.

Unionised workplaces have negotiated for additional access to flexible work and support to manage care that goes way above what you get under the law.  

You’re better off in a union - joining a union today

We're currently running a survey on flexible working – have your say

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