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Covid update: déjà vu – working from home again

The government has once again requested that anyone who is able to work from home does so from 13 December 2021.

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Published 10 December 2021

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  • Employment law for employers

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on 8 December 2021 (the “Announcement”), the government has once again requested that anyone who is able to work from home does so from 13 December 2021.

Those who are not able to work from home, for example because they need access to specific equipment, will be permitted to attend the workplace if necessary.

It is important for employers to keep in mind that they owe a duty to employees to protect their health, safety and welfare and that duty applies regardless of where the employee carries out their work. The risk of contracting Covid-19 is only one of the factors for employers to consider and some of the other factors are discussed below.

Many businesses have required employees to attend the office since restrictions ended in the summer, usually in accordance with a hybrid working policy, with home working remaining part of day-to-day life. However, once again, employers should ensure that their employees have an appropriate set up at home, including the necessary equipment, such as a supportive chair. The government has also specified that 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”. This highlights the need for employers to consider the wider implications that enforced home working may have for their employees.

Likewise, where businesses permit some of their employees to attend the office when necessary, or where the business is such that home working is impossible, employers must also carefully consider the health, safety and wellbeing of employees. Employers need to continue to take all necessary precautions to protect their workers from contracting the virus by ensuring the workplace is as Covid-secure as possible in accordance with existing government guidance (which can be found here). The government’s guidance following the Announcement also suggests that employees should consider taking regular lateral flow tests to help manage risks of attending the office. If not already implemented, employers should consider introducing a policy mandating regular testing, which could be as often as daily.

Following the announcement, it has been reported in the press that a number of high-profile City firms are keeping their offices open and letting their employees decide whether or not to attend, depending on whether they can work effectively from home. It is worth noting that employers should not put unreasonable implied or express pressure on employees to attend the workplace if it is not necessary for them to do so.

It was suggested during the Announcement that work related Christmas parties could still go ahead, despite the ‘new’ requirement to work from home where possible. However, the employer’s duty to ensure employee’s health and safety at work extends to work social events and therefore many of the same considerations discussed above apply. Employers have generally cancelled or postponed Christmas parties, or substituted larger gatherings for smaller ones which makes sense.

The implications of the Omicron variant remain uncertain and therefore it is unclear when this latest working from home guidance will be lifted or relaxed. What is clear is that this will be another festive period tainted by the pandemic that is far from normal.

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Shorter Reads

Covid update: déjà vu – working from home again

The government has once again requested that anyone who is able to work from home does so from 13 December 2021.

Published 10 December 2021

Associated sectors / services

Authors

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on 8 December 2021 (the “Announcement”), the government has once again requested that anyone who is able to work from home does so from 13 December 2021.

Those who are not able to work from home, for example because they need access to specific equipment, will be permitted to attend the workplace if necessary.

It is important for employers to keep in mind that they owe a duty to employees to protect their health, safety and welfare and that duty applies regardless of where the employee carries out their work. The risk of contracting Covid-19 is only one of the factors for employers to consider and some of the other factors are discussed below.

Many businesses have required employees to attend the office since restrictions ended in the summer, usually in accordance with a hybrid working policy, with home working remaining part of day-to-day life. However, once again, employers should ensure that their employees have an appropriate set up at home, including the necessary equipment, such as a supportive chair. The government has also specified that 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”. This highlights the need for employers to consider the wider implications that enforced home working may have for their employees.

Likewise, where businesses permit some of their employees to attend the office when necessary, or where the business is such that home working is impossible, employers must also carefully consider the health, safety and wellbeing of employees. Employers need to continue to take all necessary precautions to protect their workers from contracting the virus by ensuring the workplace is as Covid-secure as possible in accordance with existing government guidance (which can be found here). The government’s guidance following the Announcement also suggests that employees should consider taking regular lateral flow tests to help manage risks of attending the office. If not already implemented, employers should consider introducing a policy mandating regular testing, which could be as often as daily.

Following the announcement, it has been reported in the press that a number of high-profile City firms are keeping their offices open and letting their employees decide whether or not to attend, depending on whether they can work effectively from home. It is worth noting that employers should not put unreasonable implied or express pressure on employees to attend the workplace if it is not necessary for them to do so.

It was suggested during the Announcement that work related Christmas parties could still go ahead, despite the ‘new’ requirement to work from home where possible. However, the employer’s duty to ensure employee’s health and safety at work extends to work social events and therefore many of the same considerations discussed above apply. Employers have generally cancelled or postponed Christmas parties, or substituted larger gatherings for smaller ones which makes sense.

The implications of the Omicron variant remain uncertain and therefore it is unclear when this latest working from home guidance will be lifted or relaxed. What is clear is that this will be another festive period tainted by the pandemic that is far from normal.

Associated sectors / services

Authors

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