14 May 2021
Since the pandemic began, employees have generally been advised to work from home if they can; however, the big question now is when this guidance will end.
While the situation has changed a number of times in England, since the start of the year guidance has remained pretty consistent across Britain; employees should work from home if they can and organisations should take steps to facilitate this. Although homeworking is not a new concept, the pandemic brought it to the fore in an unprecedented way, with many organisations, and employees, planning on continuing homeworking at least on a part-time basis even after the pandemic.
Some organisations, however, are eager to bring staff back into the workplace and, to this end, have looked to when they are able to do so in line with government Covid guidance. While Scotland and Wales have not really commented on this, things are a little different in England. When quizzed on homeworking at Prime Minister’s Questions this week, Boris Johnson expressed hope for the work from home guidance to be relaxed on 21 June 2021, when most other restrictions are expected to go.
There are some caveats, however, to his comments. For one thing, the Government is currently reviewing if and when it can scrap the 1m+ rule, which does incorporate the work from home guidance. For another, this will very much depend on whether infection rates remain low in the country. Although the entirety of the UK has enjoyed a relatively positive couple of months, with cases remaining low, the recent surge of a new Indian variant has started to call into question whether plans to relax restrictions across England, Scotland and Wales may be subject to change.
Outside of this, there are also comments from the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE), who have cautioned that pushing for a full return to the office this summer could result in a resurgence of the virus, especially coupled with the relaxation of other restrictions. They advise that certain mitigation measures, such as face masks and working from home, may be better off remaining in place for the time being until more adults are vaccinated and the full impact of the relaxation of restrictions in June is seen.
Despite many organisations potentially pinning their hopes on 21 June for office returns, it does remain up in the air what the governments of all three British nations will decide. Indeed, Boris Johnson does seem to remain committed to relaxing the guidance as soon as he can, however his controversial decision to do so in May last year, only to be forced to U-turn in September as cases rose, does seem to have been accepted by the Government as an error. Going forward, it may be that they need to weigh up whether letting staff stay at home, despite the inconvenience it may cause to the organisations they work for, is a more preferable option to risking yet another lockdown.
In the meantime, organisations should continue to let staff work from home if they can.