Managing a return to office working

As we gradually return to some semblance of normality after more than 12 months of lockdowns and huge changes to working practices, many employers are concerned about workers being reluctant to return to the office.

Working from home has become the norm for many staff so employers will need to determine why the employees are reluctant to return.

Forcing them to return now they have a new routine in place, often involving childcare, could lead to a drop in morale or losing valuable members of staff.

With vaccines providing us with a possible end to social and economic restrictions soon, the conversation has pivoted 180-degrees. Suddenly, we are no longer worried about telling our people when they can work from home; now, we are more concerned with trying to make sure we know exactly when it is necessary and appropriate to bring people into the office.

As it stands, Government guidance across the UK remains that staff should work from home where possible and where this is not possible, Covid-secure measures should be implemented in the workplace to reduce the spread of the virus.

Employers need to establish the reason for the reluctance on a case-by-case basis, the right kind of conversation can then be had with each employee – keeping their specific circumstances in mind, as well as Government guidance and the needs of the business.

Employers are also being encouraged to implement mass in-house testing so that asymptomatic cases can be detected.

These measures need to be communicated to a reluctant employee. For example, in the form of sharing the company’s Covid risk assessment and testing policy with them. By doing this, a return to the office can be prioritised if homeworking is no longer feasible.

Firms should be careful not to force staff to return to the workplace, especially if they are able to work from home.

They should instead consult with individuals to address when the company proposes they return, giving ample notice, and discuss any issues the employee may have about returning.

These issues may well be resolved by highlighting the measures being taken by the company to ensure that the workplace is Covid-secure. This could involve implementing social distancing measures, mass on-site testing etc.

It may also be helpful to prioritise bringing back the reluctant employee/s after they have had their second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, if this is something they wish to take up.

If the employee still refuses to return to the workplace on the proposed return date without prior agreement, employers may be able to class this as a period of unauthorised absence.

Unauthorised absences can result in disciplinary action being taken against employees who unreasonably refuse to return to work, or other necessary action in compliance with company policy – the likelihood of which should be made clear to employees in the interest of full disclosure.

To avoid this, you may wish to consider alternative options where possible; for example, the taking up of annual leave, continuation of homeworking until Government guidance changes, or another more suitable adjustment.

For help and advice, contact our expert team at AGS HR Solutions today to discuss your requirements.