Blanket return to offices ‘risky strategy’, say lawyers

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Desk-based workers should return to offices from 1 August, as long as it is safe to do so, but employers who open their doors should be wary advise lawyers.

Speaking from Downing Street last week, the Prime Minister said guidance would no longer tell people to work from home: “We’re going to give employers more discretion and ask them to make decisions about how their staff can work safely.”

Writing on their website, Colin Leckey and Helen Coombes, at Lewis Silkin, said: “A blanket requirement for all employees to return to work would be a risky strategy for an employer to take if work has continued with some semblance of normality remotely throughout lockdown.”

Lewis Silkin: "Re-opening offices with optional attendance is the safest approach from a perspective of minimising employment claims."

They predict grievances could follow for breaches of Covid-19 secure guidelines. Public transport-reliant staff also run the risk of making claims. In total the firm has drawn up 12 scenarios employers should consider for a return to offices.

“Against that background, many employers will look to mitigate risk either by not asking employees to return to office-based roles or by giving them a free choice on whether to do so,” they write.

“There are reputational as well as legal risks for those that take a different approach. Although the Prime Minister’s announcement is intended to encourage a step change, it may end up bringing about only a small shift.”

The Prime Minister said he wants to get Britain ‘back to normal by Christmas’ when he floated the new guidance on 17 July. “It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November at the earliest – possibly in time for Christmas”.

The TUC cautioned employers to manage the return to workplaces in a “phased and safe way”. “All employers must complete a risk assessment and enable social distancing.”

TUC comment in full here
Lewis Silkin comment in full here


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