Do I have to go back to the office?

As lockdown restrictions ease and thoughts return to those much-missed water cooler moments, coffee runs and afternoon doughnuts, your boss may ask you to stop working from home and return to the office.

If your job can’t be done from home, you can travel into the workplace. However, you shouldn’t go to work if:

  • You’re self-isolating because you have coronavirus symptoms
  • You’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive
  • You’re in quarantine after travelling abroad

Many companies across the UK have already said they expect to have a mix of staff based in the office and at home. Some will allow workers to decide where they’re based, partly because the pandemic has shown that home working can be highly effective and also because reducing or closing office space completely helps to reduce overheads. 

According to the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), which represents HR professionals, decisions will depend on factors including the type of job and individual circumstances, emphasising that employers must treat people fairly and be as flexible as possible when dealing with any concerns.

The key point to remember is that your employer has a responsibility to keep you safe and if you have any concerns about going back, you should raise them as soon as possible. Also, if you are disabled, your employer has an extra responsibility to make and, if necessary, pay for “reasonable adjustments”.

Employers should also complete a Covid risk assessment and take steps to prevent transmission of the virus including: 

  • Staggering start/finish times
  • Minimising unnecessary visitors
  • Ensuring 2m (6ft) social distancing or 1m social distancing with additional precautions
  • Frequent cleaning and additional hand washing facilities
  • One-way systems
  • Using back-to-back or side-to-side working rather than face-to-face whenever possible

All retail staff and customers must wear face coverings unless they’re exempt.

Acas, who provide free and impartial advice for employers and employees, has lots of useful information on the theme of returning to the workplace.