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Some staff continue to work from home. I want them to return to the office. Can I enforce this?

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Some staff continue to work from home. I want them to return to the office. Can I enforce this?

Some employees in my company have continued to work from home since the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions. I want them to return to the office – can I enforce this?

For both employers and employees, there are many benefits of working from home. However, there are also a number of drawbacks that need to be consider such as;

  • Employees feeling isolated;
  • A lack of team bonding, especially for new employees;
  • Managing performance can become difficult; and
  • Reduced communication creating weaker relationships between employers and employees.

It is therefore understandable why some employers want employees to return to the office. Unless stated otherwise in an employee’s contract of employment, there is no legal entitlement for an employee to work from home.

What if an employee refuses to return to the office?

An employee can refuse to return to the office but only in very limited circumstances. Legislation grants workers a legal right to stay away from their workplace where they have a reasonable belief that it would put them at risk of serious and imminent danger which they could not be reasonably expected to avoid.

Employers would be advised to consult with employees to identify the concerns of the employee and try to reach a possible solution.

Many employees have concerns about returning due to the risk of Covid-19, however, if you as an employer can ensure safeguards are in place then it may be possible to argue that the employees’ concerns do not permit them to work from home.

However, employers should be aware of possible discrimination, and their duty to make reasonable adjustments in certain cases.

We would therefore advise employers to speak to a member of our employment if they are having issues with an employee returning to the office. Careful consideration of the circumstances needs to be given in order to avoid any potential claim.

Practical tips for employers:

  • Ensure that your workplace is safe, and you are abiding by Health and Safety Regulations;
  • Phased returns for employees who have worked from home for a significant amount of time;
  • Communicate with employees to understand their concerns;
  • Consider whether hybrid working is an option, if so, come to an arrangement with the employee that suits you both.

If you would like to discuss this or other employment-related issues, please contact Gillian Markland, specialist employment law partner, who will be very happy to help.

Our articles are intended for general information purposes only and are not a substitute for professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances. We are always very happy to discuss any plans, issues or concerns you may have and to clarify how we might be able to help. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.