Fri. Jul 1st, 2022

Staff in London are working from home more than anywhere else in Britain – with half of employees still at their kitchen table or ‘hybrid working’. 

In other areas of the country they are much more likely to have gone back to the workplace full-time, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. 

In Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and the North East, just 18 to 20 per cent of people are still shunning the office all or part of the time. 

The data lay bare the divide between London and the rest of the nation. The capital has a high concentration of wealthy white-collar workers, able to do desk-based jobs from home. 

And employers at City firms, desperate to attract the best talent, are forced to offer as many ‘perks’ as they can. 

Chetan Patel, of recruiter Hays London City, said: ‘It’s no surprise to see that hybrid working is more in practice across London, as firms can’t afford not to offer some form of flexibility in a competitive hiring market.’ 

An employee at asset manager Insight Investment said staff were only going back to the office one day a week. He said such practices were the norm in the City. MPs and business leaders have raised concerns about long-term productivity as employees lose out on face-to-face discussions.  

A third of office staff have not returned to the workplace since the start of the pandemic, with many employers not sure if they can actually make them return. Pictured: Commuters walk across London Bridge on Monday

A third of office staff have not returned to the workplace since the start of the pandemic, with many employers not sure if they can actually make them return. Pictured: Commuters walk across London Bridge on Monday

A third of office staff have not returned to the workplace since the start of the pandemic, with many employers not sure if they can actually make them return. Pictured: Commuters walk across London Bridge on Monday

Across the country, a third of office staff have not returned to the workplace since the start of the pandemic, with many employers not sure if they can actually make them return.

New research has found employers are being met with ‘resistance’ from staff over coming back into the office, and are uncertain whether they can ‘legally mandate’ the end of work from home.

In January, Boris Johnson ended guidance to work from home where possible in England as the government scrapped the remaining Covid restrictions.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been moving slower towards dropping the same rules.

But in research for insurance brokerage Gallagher, a third of employees who previously worked in offices said they had not returned in almost two years following the March 2020 lockdown.

A quarter of business leaders said their employees’ contracts do not stipulate that they need to work from a specific location, the study suggests.

Bosses voiced concern about the risk of litigation, driven by changing working patterns, as staff are asked to return to the workplace, said a report.

The research found that most businesses are suggesting workers should be in the office full-time now or in the near future, or a minimum of part-time, as they implement a hybrid model.

But a third of the 1,000 business leaders surveyed said they are meeting resistance from their employees towards returning to the workplace even part-time. 

Neil Hodgson, of insurance brokerage Gallagher, said: 'Many businesses remain uncertain just how far they can legally mandate the return to workplaces, leading to concerns about litigation and complaints'

Neil Hodgson, of insurance brokerage Gallagher, said: 'Many businesses remain uncertain just how far they can legally mandate the return to workplaces, leading to concerns about litigation and complaints'

Neil Hodgson, of insurance brokerage Gallagher, said: ‘Many businesses remain uncertain just how far they can legally mandate the return to workplaces, leading to concerns about litigation and complaints’

Bosses and workers now need to navigate a knot of confusing laws and guidance to ensure they avoid legal jeopardy

Bosses and workers now need to navigate a knot of confusing laws and guidance to ensure they avoid legal jeopardy

Bosses and workers now need to navigate a knot of confusing laws and guidance to ensure they avoid legal jeopardy

Neil Hodgson, of Gallagher, said: ‘The return to workplaces is a complicated task for senior leaders at UK businesses.

‘Keeping everyone happy can be challenging and, while some employees feel that they have no need to be in the office, there is an awareness that leadership needs to implement policies consistently.

‘But many businesses remain uncertain just how far they can legally mandate the return to workplaces, leading to concerns about litigation and complaints.’

A third of 1,000 office employees surveyed for the report said they have not been in the workplace since March 2020.

A third of 1,000 office employees surveyed for the report said they have not been in the workplace since March 2020. Pictured: Commuters at London Bridge station on Monday

A third of 1,000 office employees surveyed for the report said they have not been in the workplace since March 2020. Pictured: Commuters at London Bridge station on Monday

A third of 1,000 office employees surveyed for the report said they have not been in the workplace since March 2020. Pictured: Commuters at London Bridge station on Monday

However, an employment tribunal ruling in December said that staff cannot use a fear of catching Covid as a reason not to go back to the office – because worries of getting infected are not a legally protected philosophical belief.

A complaint of unlawful discrimination due to this fear was brought against an unnamed employer at a tribunal in Manchester.

But Judge Mark Leach ruled that health and safety concerns do not qualify under equality legislation as a belief, meaning the employer could withhold their pay.

While the judgment does not set a wider legal precedent, it will give employers confidence if they are considering deducting pay or sacking staff who refuse to return to the office when the current work from home advice is relaxed.

An anonymous woman brought the alleged unlawful discrimination claim against her employer after she decided not to return to work on health and safety grounds in July last year.

A stay-at-home order was first introduced in March last year and many switched to working from their houses unless it was impossible to do so.

After the first lockdown was lifted, many employers encouraged staff back to the office in the summer.

In a statement to the tribunal, the woman said she had ‘reasonable and justifiable health and safety concerns about the workplace surrounding Covid-19’ and the risk posed to her was ‘serious and imminent’.

The woman said she had a ‘genuine fear’ of falling ill from the virus – and particularly of passing it on to her partner who she said was ‘at high risk of getting seriously unwell’.

What are the rules around returning to the office?

What is the official guidance?

In England, the official guidance to work from home where possible has ended and workers will be able to head back to the office.

Speaking in January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on people to speak to their employers about arrangements for their return.

In Scotland, new guidance for employers recommends a hybrid working system, with staff spending some time in the office and some time at home.  

Guidance in Wales and Northern Ireland still advises employees and business to work from home where possible.

Can I request flexible working? 

Yes, all employees have the right by law to request flexible working, which can include working from home. The only requirement is that they have worked for the employer for at least half a year (26 weeks).

Employers can turn these requests down only if they have reasonable cause to do so, for example if the type of work involved cannot be done from home. They can refuse applications as long as they have a “good business reason”.

Alexandra Mizzi of Howard Kennedy, a legal firm, said employers often used the potential impact on performance as a reason to refuse working from home requests.

‘However, they will find it much harder to justify refusal when home working has worked out fairly well,’ she added.

Do businesses still need to test people or ask them to wear masks?

The government’s policy is to remove the legal restrictions and persuade people to act sensibly. They want it to be self-regulating, which is a very English approach. 

In England the law doesn’t prescribe things unless they are necessary, and things are done by consensus. 

Richard Fox, employment partner at Kingsley Napley, told MailOnline: ‘Once all further restrictions are removed, it will recommend people at my firm take tests periodically during the week.

‘But it will be down to each company, and their employees, to decide for themselves.’

What do I do if I’ve got Covid? 

You should tell your boss that you cannot come into work because you have tested positive. The employer cannot force you back in if you’re unwell.

But if someone doesn’t come in they can require within a certain number of days that the person gets a certificate from a GP saying whether they are fit to come into work. 

And the employer can also require the staff member to be seen to judge whether they are fit to return to work.

What if my boss tries to force me in? 

Richard Fox says: ‘Employers can give ”lawful and reasonable” instructions to their employees, but I would question whether this would be a lawful and reasonable reason. 

‘I suspect there will be some difficult situations to come. It’s a big jump to say that people can come in whether hitherto it has been unlawful to do this.’

Will employers have to rip up their existing sickness rules and start again? 

This is undoubtedly a big moment for employers.

When the Government scraps COVID isolation rules, it means employers can no longer rely on Government regulation to provide the groundwork for a system of protection for their workers.

Earlier than expected it seems employers are going to need to set the rules for themselves.

It may be prudent for these to cover new more potent strains of COVID-19 that may come along or even other infections besides COVID-19.

If they do not have appropriate policies already in place, employers may want to consider introducing ‘infection policies’ to set rules and standards for the entire organisation so everyone is clear.

For a building contractor the rules may be different to a care home; office-based workplaces may have different rules and needs to a retailer.

 It may not be wise to leave it to individual managers to take a view on isolation and vaccine requirements for members of their own departments, as that could lead to legal risk for the employer.

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