Covid: Should I be working from home or going back to the office?

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  • Coronavirus pandemic

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It will "no longer be necessary" for the government to tell people to work from home as the remaining restrictions are lifted in England, the prime minister has announced.

The change is part of the final stage of England's Covid lockdown roadmap, due on 19 July.

Where am I supposed to be working?

Under the current guidance, everyone who can work from home should still do so.

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

Why does the government want people back in the office?

As part of changes due on 19 July, people will no longer be asked to work from home. Mr Johnson said employers will "be able to start planning a safe return to the workplace".

The government wants to help companies which have suffered during lockdown, including those in city centres which rely on office workers.

It's also keen to cut the cost of paying furloughed staff by encouraging businesses to reopen. More than £100bn has been spent on support for jobs.

image copyrightGetty ImagesCan I ask to keep working from home after the advice changes?

You can ask to keep working from home, but that doesn't mean your employer has to agree.

However, the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) – which represents HR professionals – says there could be much greater freedom and flexibility in how, when and where people work in future.

"People generally want a mix of workplace and home working, and the possibility of more choice in their working routines, meaning hybrid working can provide an effective balance for many workers."

The CIPD adds that the day restrictions end "shouldn't signal a mass return to workplaces" and "it should be down to individual organisations, consulting with their people, to agree working arrangements".

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What does my employer have to do to keep me safe?

In England, the current guidance says employers should complete a Covid risk assessment, and take steps to prevent transmission, including:

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

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

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Regular lateral flow testing for Covid is already widespread in many sectors, and anyone in England or Scotland can also order tests directly.

There's more detailed guidance for specific industries including construction, hospitality and manufacturing.

Similar advice is available for employers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

If employees feel unsafe, they can contact their local authority, Citizens Advice or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE has carried more than 200,000 inspections to check companies are following Covid rules, and can force firms to take action if not.

Once the advice changes, the CIPD says that employers should continue to ensure that they have the necessary measures in place to give confidence to workers that their workplace is safe.

"This can include changes to desk spaces, shift patterns to help workers avoid busy times on public transport and use of one-way systems to reduce staff contact while the risk of infection remains", it says.

Is it safe to use public transport?

Much of the risk depends on how crowded it is, and your distance from other people.

Wearing a mask helps, as does keeping windows open, and avoiding peak journey times where possible.

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Train companies are increasing capacity to help prevent overcrowding, and are carrying out extra cleaning.

Transport for London says it's using hospital-grade cleaning materials across its trains, trams, buses and stations.

What are my rights if I am in a vulnerable group?

Previous advice – that millions of "clinically extremely vulnerable" people should shield – has now ended.

Many continue to work from home, but if your job cannot be done remotely, your employer can ask you to return to the workplace.

However, they still have a responsibility to keep you safe, so you should raise any specific concerns you have about going back.

In addition, if you are disabled, your employer has an extra responsibility to make and pay for "reasonable adjustments".

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