9th April 2021

New Work Related Challenges for Employers

After the easing of restrictions, some employers may find resistance from some of their teams about returning to work.  These are employees who have either been on long term furlough leave or working from home since March 2020. Some employees may be saying they do not want to return to the office or other place of work.

So, what can an employer do?

As an employer, you should be encouraging employees to return to their place of work. This may however be a difficult concept for some employers to undertake.  The critical word here is encourage and ensuring employees have a safe place to return to.  You should show employees your Covid risk assessments, and fully describe the measures  you have implemented to keep them safe.

One particular challenge that may arise is where an employee informs their employer that they do not believe there is a safe system of working in their place of work to allow them to return, if for example, they cannot properly socially distance etc. Under the law as it currently stands, all employees have a statutory right not to be subjected to any detriment or dismissed for refusing to come to work in circumstances where the employee has a reasonable belief that they are in “serious and imminent danger”.  This will of course include anything to do with Covid. Encouragement and open communication is key in these circumstances with employees given as much re-assurance as possible that there is a safe system of work.

Possible options:

a)   perhaps ask the team for volunteers to return to the office while others remain either on furlough meantime or where practical, work from home. This may mean setting up a rota system, so any selections you make should be objectively based.  This also means the reality of having the same team coming in and not mixing them up. You can then provide a rotational basis for employees but this means, they would work flexibly so that numbers are limited on any one day. Or of course, move premises.  You do not need to wait till everyone has been vaccinated, nor can you force an employee to take the vaccine;

b)   you could introduce a phased return with emphasis on those who have been vaccinated first;

c)   if you don’t have sufficient volunteers, you may need to consider a mandatory approach. This may be problematic if you have employees who have a particular reason for being unwilling to return in which case, the safest option is to allow then to continue working from home.  This could be a health issue, or the safety aspect mentioned above for example;

d)   if already running out of space due to social distancing measures being implemented, you may need to consider moving to larger premises;

e) perhaps introduce hybrid working


Read our next part about considering what your post-pandemic working model in future.