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Latest government advice regarding working in the office

The recent government guidance confirms that individuals should continue to "work from home if you can."  It also states that employers should facilitate working from home. It is expected that employees will be able to return to the workplace without restrictions from 21 June.

Where people cannot work from home employers should allow for staggered arrival and departure times to make travel easier, and should give consideration to those at higher risk.

The guidance also states that, where it is necessary for their work, individuals can gather in a group larger than six people or two households indoors or in a group larger than 30 people outdoors.

In terms of health and safety law, employers have a duty to look after the health and safety of their employees. In addition, employers are required to follow any specific regulations and guidance which has been issued by or on behalf of the government and which relate to the Coronavirus pandemic.

A failure to comply with health and safety obligations could leave employers exposed to claims by employees. For example, employees could argue that a failure to adequately protect them is a breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence and then resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal. The Employment Rights Act 1996 also provides protection to employees from being dismissed or treated to their detriment if they raise health and safety concerns. A breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 can also amount to a criminal offence.

Taking this into consideration, if an employee is genuinely concerned that there may be a risk to their health and safety if they are asked to return to work before 21 June (and it is possible for them to carry out heir work from home), employers should listen to their concerns and agree a return to work plan which they feel comfortable with. Should the employee resist returning to work after 21 June, the employer could insist upon it but this depends on the circumstances, for example whether or not the employee has a health condition. Specialist advice should be sought before deciding on the appropriate course of action.