Businesses lack policies for staff unwilling to return to the office

Almost one in six (16%) organisations expect to have staff who refuse to return to the office when coronavirus restrictions are lifted, yet 90% said they still lack the policies in place to deal with it.

According to a new survey by law firm Schofield Sweeney, employers believe they cannot take action against an employee for refusing to return to the workplace.

Government guidance recommending people still work from home where possible was cited as the main reason for this.

Almost two-thirds (65%) of businesses said they had not made and did not intend to make any adjustments for unvaccinated staff or those unwilling to return. 

Simon Shepherd, head of the Employment team at Schofield Sweeney, said though many employees will be keen to return to the workplace, many more will be reluctant.

Speaking to HR magazine Shepherd said: “As well as HR teams being mindful of the employer’s duty of care to ensure a safe working environment, now is a good time to review flexible working policies. 

“Many employees have worked very well from home and will either want to continue to do so or will want a hybrid home/office working going forward.” 

The vaccination challenge and returning to work safely survey also found 25% of respondents have only been able to operate on a limited basis during the pandemic due to insufficient remote working procedures.  

A further 4% have not been able to operate at all. 

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Uncertainty surrounding what proportion of its workforce can or cannot be vaccinated has made return to work planning difficult for HR teams.  

Around half (55%) of businesses said they did not know if they had any employees who were unable to have the vaccination on health grounds, though 27% said they would make adjustments for staff who cannot have the vaccine on medical grounds.

Shepherd said another problem HR teams will face will be issues of consistency, as employees’ flexible working demands will differ from one another.   

He said: “While there may be some line managers who require an employee to go through a formal process and involve HR, there will be others who simply agree and take a more flexible approach.

“Grievances are often underpinned by an argument of unfairness and inconsistency, therefore training for line managers may be required and this should include the need to consult HR on these decisions.”