Johnson and Hancock comments confuse employers regarding staff returning to work

Companies have been left confused by Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s comments that office workers should start to return to work where as Health Secretary, Matt Hancock has said that remote working should be legally protected.

Mr Johnson’s comment also seems to contradict the current guidelines released by the Government that employers should take necessary steps to assist their staff to work from home. Employees should only return to work if they cannot work from home.

Mr Johnson made these remarks at ‘The People’s PMQs’ on 10/07/20 where he said:

People should start to go to work now if they can. I want to see more people feeling confident to use the shops, use the restaurants and get back into work – but only if we all follow the guidance.

The Daily Mail claims that these comments were inspired by Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, witnessing the impact empty offices are having on local economies and home working negatively hurting productivity levels.

However, Mr Hancock stated last week that the right to work from home should become law. As the pandemic has shown how remote working can be successfully deployed. During a web chat with AllBright, a woman’s club he outlined that remote working should be the “new norm”.

Nick Thorpe, partner, Fieldfisher a law firm said:

It’s clear that Boris is hoping that a large scale return to work will result in improved productivity and economic recovery. But many businesses have responded well to large % of their workplace working from home and are now looking at re-modelling their workforce and work space. They are looking beyond “work from home” to a “work from anywhere” approach.

Looking at Hancock’s comments, the UK may not yet be ready for a statutory right to work from home. Flexible working rights already give employees the opportunity to put forward a business case to work from home and it will be much more difficult going forward for employers to refuse such requests in future, if employees have worked effectively from home during lockdown.

Still, Kate Palmer, associate director of advisory at Peninsula, explained that there has been no concrete evidence that remote working will be legally implemented.

As it stands, UK employees have the legal right to request flexible working if they have worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks. They must also be defined as an employee and they cannot have made any other flexible working request in the last 12 months.