Prime Minister encourages return to work – what does this mean for employees?

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The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has given employers more discretion to bring staff back into the office from 1 August, if it’s safe to do so.

In setting out the Government’s next steps in its COVID-19 response, the Prime Minister said that the updated guidance would give employers more discretion over where their staff can work.

In his speech, Johnson said: “We’re going to give employers more discretion and ask them to make decisions about how their staff can work safely.

“That could mean continuing to work from home, which is one way of working safely and which has worked for many employers and employees. Or it could mean making workplaces safe.”

Johnson has emphasised that while “it is not for Government to decide how employers should run their companies”, that they were allowing businesses to make decisions over where their staff work, and if they feel it would be more productive for them to be in the office, and as long as it is safe to do so, then there should be discussions between staff and their employers.

Samantha Randall, a Solicitor with Palmers, who specialises in Employment law, said: “This announcement means that the return to work is at the employer’s discretion, but consultation with employees is essential to ensure they have a say in how and when they return.

“In particular, the onus in on employers to consider the physical safety and mental wellbeing of their staff before asking them to return to their usual place of work.

“Employers have statutory and common law duties for health and safety. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (“HSWA 1974”) places a general duty on a company, its directors, managers and employees to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees. Employers employing 5 or more people must have a written health and safety policy.

“The HSE may take enforcement action against employers who do not take action to comply with the relevant public health legislation and guidance.”

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has also stated that employers should consider if the following conditions are met before staff members return to the workplace:

  • Is it essential for the employee to be in the workplace to do their job?
  • Is it sufficiently safe?
  • Is it mutually agreed with workers?

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