Your legal rights if you are told you have to work in the office

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The government has returned to its message that people should work from home whenever possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

This marks another shift in stance after numerous reports that the prime minister wanted workers to return to office last month.

In fact, many people have continued to work from home since the first nationwide lockdown in March and will continue to do so.

The hospitality industry faces new restrictions, including a 10pm curfew and table service only.

But with the government not ordering any businesses to shut down and leave support due to end next month, that means millions of people will be returning to work.

Over the past six months, employers have found ways to make their workplace safer with measures such as reduced capacity, improved cleaning regimes and the wearing of masks.

However, it will likely be another testing period for employers and employees.

MEN spoke to David Jones, an employment law expert at St John’s Buildings, about the options workers have if they are uncomfortable with their work environment.

“I think it’s confusing,” Jones admitted.

“I think it’s going to have a different impact on different industries.

“If you look at professional services, most people have adapted and worked from home with a laptop, and are getting computer support, and so on.

“If you look at the manufacturing, like people using machines, there’s no way you can work from home.

“The way to understand this is like a game of risk.

“Employers will want people to get back to work and be as productive as possible.

“But everyone who is employed is protected by the law on employment rights.

“They cannot be asked to do anything that is detrimental to their health and safety.

“If an employee says ‘it’s not sure’ [legislation] will provide them protection.

Mr. Jones says that as a first step, employees should look to their employer’s internal code of practice.

“The key to this is dialogue between employees and the employer,” he said.

“Everyone feels good there.

“I would definitely take the informal approach.

“But at the same time, people need to be aware, employees, that they have rights.

“Employers must provide a safe workplace.

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“If you need to go further, there are ways to do it.”

Mr Jones said that if an employee cannot agree on safe practices for covid in his work, he can first file a grievance with his employer.

They could also ask Citizens Advice or their union for help, if they have one.

Failing everything else, they could raise the issue publicly as a whistleblower.

“There are laws that protect whistleblowers,” Jones said.

“This gives them protection against dismissal or disciplinary action.

“At the end of the day, people are going to have to speak out if there are concerns about a specific workplace.

“I think we’re pretty lucky in this country, especially while we’re still in the EU, a lot of our protections are written into EU law.”

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