Leighan Banks, litigation and employment law director of Pudsey law firm John Howe & Co, is warning businesses to prepare for potential legal challenges from staff reluctant to return to the workplace.
The ‘work from home if you can’ order expires on 19th July, with new guidance allowing employers and employees to negotiate future working practices expected.
The ITV soap Coronation Street is highlighting the issue in a storyline featuring Izzy Armstrong, a disabled factory worker, who feels unhappy going back to working at Underworld after more than a year shielding at home. Her boss, Carla Barlow, is insistent she returns to the factory when her work becomes shoddy.
Although many employers are planning for a more flexible working model others are aiming for a return to full-time office or factory working. There would be different regulations applicable depending upon the nature of the business and indeed the employee since in the case of Izzy the Employer would be expected to make reasonable adjustments to allow her to return to work to avoid discrimination and this may well include working from home.
Differences between employers and employees over working from home could come to a head over the summer as lockdown measures are withdrawn and the furlough scheme finishes.
Leighan said: “Most workers have no legal right to work from home, and once restrictions are lifted an employee who refuses to come into the office when requested could have disciplinary proceedings brought against especially in circumstances where it would be unreasonable for the Employee to refuse.
“We are hearing more and more of people taking legal advice. There are some who enjoy working from home and the flexibility it offers, others who feel concerned about the safety of going back to the office or who are anxious after such a long time away.
“Coronation Street is using its profile to highlight this issue, which is going to be a concern for workers and bosses alike as restrictions ease, but Covid cases continue to grow but it needs to be taken into context with the particular circumstances that are being portrayed in the story line.
“Employment law is always a tricky area, and this is an added complication business can do without. A one size fits all approach may well be the wrong view to take and as such this necessitates the need to seek proper legal advice before making a firm decision on how to approach the issue”.