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

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A change could be on the way for millions of workers, as companies prepare for a return to the office.

What do you need to know if your boss asks you to stop working from home?

Where am I supposed to be working?

Despite the easing of restrictions, 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?

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.

In England, most people should keep working at home until step four of the roadmap out of lockdown is reached.

A review of social distancing has been advising ministers - who should say on 14 June if step four can go ahead on 21 June.

Sources have told the BBC the government is considering delaying the lifting by up to four weeks, because of concerns about the spread of the Delta variant first identified in India.

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Can I ask to keep working from home when the advice changes?

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

The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), which represents HR professionals, says decisions will depend on factors including individual circumstances and the type of job.

It says: "Employers have a duty of care to all their staff and [must] treat people reasonably and fairly... and be as flexible as possible when dealing with any concerns people have."

However, lots of companies have already said they expect to have a mixture of staff in the office and at home. Several firms have said that workers will be able to decide where they're based.

That's partly because the pandemic has shown that home-working can be effective, but also because shutting or reducing office space can save money.

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.

Is it safe to use public transport?

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.

It also says capacity limits will remain on all non-school buses, to help maintain social distancing.

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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