As you may already be aware from the news articles this week, where home working has been guidance only, from 20th December 2021, individuals must work from home where reasonably practicable for them to do so. Employers must allow or require their employees to work from home unless there is a clear business need that would make working from home impractical, in line with their duties to take reasonable measures.
When we look at reasonable measures the government have explained that there is an expectation that employers must be flexible and make adjustments wherever that is possible. For example, issuing staff with IT equipment (laptops, monitors, keyboards), issuing staff with mobile phones, facilitating communication across locations this is something a lot of employers will already be prepared for given the unprecedented times over the last, almost two years.
It is important to note that employees must not be required or placed under pressure to return to a workplace setting if there is not a clearly demonstrated business need for them to do so.
Employers who are considering requiring their staff to return to workplace settings should first assess whether alternative arrangements such as working from home could meet the majority of business needs, employees must be allowed to work from home in order to minimise the risk of exposure to or spread of coronavirus. This should be discussed with staff or representatives of staff.
In determining whether to ask staff to return to workplace settings, employers must also consider whether any adverse impacts on an individual’s wellbeing would be particularly adversely affected by this. This includes:
- The risk to individuals who are at increased risk or are clinically extremely vulnerable (who were previously advised to shield and who still need to take high levels of precaution).
- Whether returning to the workplace would cause individuals severe anxiety.
This is particularly the case where work would require them to be in regular or sustained contact with other people or to share a poorly ventilated space for long periods.
Equally, there may be staff who wish to return to or remain in workplace settings. In these circumstances, the wellbeing of staff is a relevant consideration when deciding what measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus are reasonable. For example, would requiring an employee to work from home have an adverse effect on their mental health.
Although an employers’ first priority should be minimising the risk of exposure to coronavirus, this should be balanced against the detrimental effect working from home may be having on an employee’s wellbeing. In these circumstances if employees in this position can return to the workplace setting without a significant increase in the risk of exposure to coronavirus, this can be considered. In view of this, employers should consider the extent to which the employee returning to the workplace would come into close contact with others both within the workplace but also in travelling to and from work.
It is important that risk assessments are kept up to date and that preventative measures are kept in place in line with Government Guidance, for example, 2 metre distancing, hand sanitising, wearing face masks etc.