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The recommendation to #WFH is no more, so do we actually *have* to return to the office? An employment lawyer explains your rights


There are pros and cons to #WFH: we can wear PJs day in day out and no-one would know, we don’t have to take a stressful commute, but we also don’t get to see our work wives half as much, nor do we have an excuse to buy a daily Pret coffee. Now, the government’s recommendation to work from home has been fully lifted, but do we actually have to go into the office? Philip Landau, employment lawyer at Landau Law explains the rules.

“You have to return to the office if it is considered to be a reasonable instruction by your employer,” he tells us. “You would only be able to argue against this if you had an underlying health concern that was reasonable and justified.” He says a disability or a medical condition that could put you at risk if you were to return to the workplace would count.

“In these cases,” he adds. “Your employer should consider what reasonable adjustments could be made, and continuing to work from home might be one of them.”

What’s interesting, is that Lau also tells us that while guidelines were in place to say we should only go into the office if it was essential, these weren’t laws, and so our employers were always able to insist that we go back in, if they had “sound business reasons”.

“The recommendations just made it more difficult for employers to justify their decision,” Lau says.

So, can we refuse to return to the office?

“Not without a sufficient reason,” Lau affirms. “Which is likely to be resulting around your health. A general concern about catching Covid without underlying health concerns isn’t enough, though.”

If you did, however, decide to go against your employer’s request and refuse to go into the workplace without good, justified reason, Lau says it could lead to a disciplinary, or a dismissal.

All that said, we do know that most companies are more open to flexible working, so if returning to the office is causing you concern – whether that be for worries around covid, or perhaps you’re worried about money since you’ve got used to not having to spend so much on a commute – always talk it out with your manager. Providing you can show your performance hasn’t been affected since working from home, they’re likely to be willing to adapt how, and where, you work.

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