Working from home laws: what are the rules - and can workers choose to work from home permanently?

Employers might need to prove it is essential for staff to return to the workplace under new laws

They will be given a ‘default’ right to not return to the office as ministers draw up plans for working life post-pandemic.

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It means it will be more than 16 months of working from home for those who packed up their belongings ahead of the first national lockdown in March 2020.

Working from home could be the new normal as ministers get set to consult on plans post-pandemic (Shutterstock).

While it might sound like music to the ears for some people – others fed up of their dining rooms, bedrooms and makeshift desks might be thinking differently about the new proposals.

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What are the rules around working from home?

As it stands, working from home is expected to continue beyond Step 4 of Boris Johnson’s roadmap.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the lockdown delay in an announcement on Monday (14 June), stating that the final stage of the lockdown roadmap will be pushed back by up to four weeks.

The setback comes due to concerns over the rapidly spreading Delta variant, first identified in India, which now accounts for more than 96 per cent of new Covid-19 cases.

According to the government, as the country remains in Step 3 of England’s roadmap, everyone who can work from home must do so.

If it’s not possible to work from home, the advice is to plan your journey and avoid busy crowds.

If you do have to return to an office environment, employers should have conducted a risk assessment before asking anyone to head in.

They should also have followed official guidelines called ‘Working safely during coronavirus’, which can be found on Gov.uk.

After following this advice they should have implemented a number of measures to make sure employees are as safe as possible - such as staggered lunch breaks and increased mechanical and natural ventilation.

The government has relaxed it’s two metre rule but in scenarios where it’s not possible workers should keep one metre apart from others outside their household.

Health and safety advice also recommends that colleagues should not sit face-to-face and use protective screens, if possible, to separate people from each other.

Workers such as plumbers who need to work in a household can still do so as long as they keep socially distanced.

Can workers choose to work from home permanently?

Under the new proposals - it could be illegal for employers to insist their staff return to the office.

They would need to be able to show “good reason” for them to be in the workplace.

The government is expected to consult on these plans during the summer - ahead of potential new legislation in 2022, The Daily Mail reports.

A Whitehall source told the publication: “We are looking at introducing a default right to flexible working.

“That would cover things like reasonable requests by parents to start late so they can drop their kids at childcare.

“But in the case of office workers in particular it would also cover working from home – that would be the default right unless the employer could show a good reason why someone should not.”

Harriet Broughton, employment lawyer at Stone King, said: “It is difficult to see how future legislation would influence decision making now, or assist employers and employees who are currently seeking to reach agreement on working arrangements.

Employees with over 26 weeks service already have the right to make flexible working requests, which include asking to work at home.

“While there are eight legitimate reasons for an employee to reject this, given the amount of working from home since March 2020, there may be challenges for employers from employees whose home working requests have not been accepted.

"As we transition out of lockdown employers need to make decisions about home-working now, and also about what working arrangements should be adopted moving forward.”

The proposals follow on from a leaked Whitehall document that recommends the government should not actively tell people to go back to the workplace after 19 July.

The paper draws up three potential options on work-from-home messaging.

The government could either tell the public to go back to work, remain neutral, or encourage people to work from home, Politico reports.

Claims suggest that the government will choose to back a ‘hybrid approach’ with a mix of working from home and heading into the place of work if their commute is not necessary.