Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Who should work from home? Plan B rules explained

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Senior businesswoman using laptop for team meeting video conference
Are you back to Zoom meetings and solo lunch breaks? (Picture: Getty)

In order to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, new Covid restrictions are in place in England.

Face masks are now mandatory in shops, other public indoor spaces and on public transport – while travellers have to contend with a new red list, plus a multitude of compulsory PCR tests (including a self-isolation period) on return to England.

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The government’s newly-implemented Plan B restrictions also include vaccine passports to prove whether or not you’re fully-jabbed, plus a ‘work from home if you can’ instruction.

But what does ‘if you can’ really mean? Does it apply to your job? And what should you do if you can work from home, but your employer doesn’t want you to?

Here’s what we know.

Who can work from home under the new rules?

From Monday, December 13, a new work from home order comes into place in England.

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It’s an ‘if you can’ type of deal – so it’s for people who can do their jobs remotely effectively.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson explained it like this: ‘Go to work if you must, but work from home if you can.

‘I know it will be hard for many people, but by reducing your contacts in the workplace, you will help slow transmission.’

Mostly, it applies to office workers – as many were able to work from home previously.

But if your job requires special equipment – or you work in a public-facing, client-facing or essential role – you will probably be heading back to your usual workplace come Monday.

People working in offices, facade & windows, London, UK
Some offices will be empty, but not all of them. (Picture: Getty)

Industries such as retail, hospitality, construction, healthcare, etc typically require working in person – unless, of course, you’ve been told otherwise by your employer.

If you aren’t sure whether you classify as an ‘if you can’ candidate for remote working, talk to your boss about it.

As for those in Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has advised employers to keep employees working from home, if they’ve been remote at earlier points in the pandemic, until mid-January.

Northern Ireland and Wales, meanwhile, encourage working from home where possible as a good thing – but it doesn’t appear to be a straight-up law or rule right now.

Can your employer make you work in an office?

In short, it depends on what your job is – and how essential it is to do it from the office.

Mature man with beard working from home on laptop
Some office workers may have remained remote throughout 2021 (Picture: Getty)

If you do a job which requires specific equipment or in-person client work, that simply can’t be done from home, then yes: your boss can require you to go in.

However, if you think you can work from home (or have been doing so successfully during previous ‘work from home’ mandates), you should speak to your employer about it.

Citizens Advice explains: ‘If your employer says that you can’t work from home but you disagree, start by having an open conversation with them about it.

‘Explain why you would prefer to work from home, and try to demonstrate how it is possible to do so while carrying out all aspects of your job.’

If you’re particularly concerned about travelling to an office or work environment via public transport, again it’s wise to address those concerns with your boss.

Rear view of young woman at subway station with incoming train
If you don’t fancy public transport, speak to your employer about remote working (Picture: Getty)

Citizens Advice says there’s ‘no clear legal position’ about whether an employer has to consider this under their health and safety obligations to staff – because they can’t control public transport.

But the organisation adds: ‘Your employer should listen to your concerns if you’re worried about having to use public transport if you can’t work from home. You could reach an arrangement that you’re comfortable with, for example, asking to travel at quieter times of the day.’

Employers do, however, have a legal obligation to make the workspace safe for you.

They are currently advised by the government to undertake a Covid-19 risk assessment, ensure regular deep cleaning, keep offices well-ventilated and make it possible for staff to social distance.

What your employer has as part of the Covid policy might depend on the industry you’re in, the size of your team and other factors.

MORE : What is Plan B and when do the new rules start?

MORE : Omicron ‘could spark 2.0 of the pandemic’, top doctor warns

MORE : Potential ‘Plan C’ could include masks and NHS app check-in at pubs

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