Addressing the final stage of the Government’s roadmap, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has revealed that the work from home order will be lifted from the 19th July.

In a speech intended to set out a five point plan for “living with COVID-19”, Mr. Johnson expressed that he wished to give businesses “time to prepare” for the upcoming changes.

Mr. Johnson stated it would no longer be necessary for people to work from home where possible from 19th July.

As such, the Prime Minister urged employers to begin planning for a safe return to work.

During the press conference, the Prime Minister also revealed that the 1M social distancing rule is set to be removed as is wearing mandatory face coverings.

However, this pre-emptive plan will be confirmed on the 12th July after a review of the latest coronavirus data goes ahead.

TUC Deputy General Secretary Paul Nowak criticised the Government’s decision to leave health and safety decisions concerning the office return to the discretion of individual employers:

It is vital that people returning to work have confidence their workplaces are as Covid-secure as possible.

It is not acceptable for the government to outsource its health and safety responsibilities to individuals and to employers.

Personal responsibility will have a role to play, but ministers cannot wash their hands of keeping people safe at work.

With cases rising the government must send out a clear message to employers to play by the rules or face serious action.

That means publishing clear guidance based on the most up-to-date science and consultations with unions and employers.

However, Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, viewed this more optimistically:

Freedom Day shouldn’t signal a mass return to workplaces, but it could signal the start of greater freedom and flexibility in how, when and where people work.
It should be down to individual organisations, consulting with their people, to agree working arrangements after the end of restrictions.

In addition, David Jepps, employment partner at Keystone Law, reflected on how this is likely to impact flexible working requests:

We may also see a surge in flexible working requests with plans now being more concrete that offices will reopen. While a number of employers have already announced hybrid working policies, employers who have yet to make such announcements must reasonably consider any requests.

Employers can reject requests on defined grounds – but this is likely to prove difficult if the employees can show that they have been able to work successfully out of the office for the last year.

This comes as the Flexible Working Bill was read to Parliament last week, which if enacted, would give employees the right to flexible working from day one on a job.

However, at the same time, many businesses in London have written to the Prime Minister urging for a return to the office, showing that the future of work is still yet to be mapped out.

The CIPD ultimately called for businesses not to revert back to “how they used to work” due to definitive “experience and evidence that it can be done differently, and with positive impacts on employee health and wellbeing, inclusion and productivity.”