Employers encouraged to 'get tough' on employees refusing to re-enter the workplace

Workers have ignored Rishi Sunak's call to go back to offices and are continuing to work from home despite the lifting of government advice on July 19.

Research by consultancy firm Remit Consulting found only 11.7% of workers were in the office at the end of July.

Founder and managing director at Jaluch HR, Helen Jamieson has urged employers to ask themselves who is managing whom when it comes to asking employees to return to the office.

Jamieson told HR magazine that employers need to get a little tougher.

She said: “With a significant interest in more flexible working patterns, many employees have somehow created their own ideal working conditions, maybe forgetting they have a contract of employment and there are formal procedures to request flexible working.

“Alongside issues of remote working, at the end of September, furlough will end.”

Issues surrounding return to the office:

Living with Covid and the end of isolation: employers risk excluding vulnerable

What does ‘living with Covid’ mean for business?

Return to work anxiety – how can businesses bring staff back safely?

In June this year, around two million people were still on furlough, with some 28% of employers still furloughing staff.

Jamieson said these statistics have created a ticking time bomb of issues.

“As an employer you will get excuses, reasons, validations and guilt-tripping all thrown at you about why someone cannot work from the office, or return from furlough, but at the end of the day it is the employer, not the employee who makes the decisions.

“If you allow every employee to determine what is right for them you will have anarchy. You must stay in control,” she said.

It is time to regain control of what flexible working is in your business, how it can be requested and agreed and in what circumstances employees can claim flexible working.

When it comes to organising flexible working agreements, Jamieson said it is a question of who is managing whom.

She said: “Do your managers feel in control of flexible working, or do they feel controlled by employees who assert what works for them, not the business?

“Flexibility used to relate mostly to reduced hours working, reduced days, term-time only working and home working.

“However increasingly when people talk about flexibility, they are talking about a combination of home and office working or hybrid working.”

There are a few legal implications, for example contractual locations, tax and insurance, related to hybrid working so employers shouldn’t agree to it without thinking it through, explained Jamieson.

“If someone refuses to return on grounds of ill health then it all starts to feel complicated.

“But it’s not that complicated, either they are signed off by their doctor or they come back to the office/workplace.

“If they return, you may need to look at temporary or permanent adjustments to accommodate their ill health just as you would with any other sickness absence returnee.”

If they are signed off, then a period of absence management begins which may ultimately result in their dismissal.

“This may or may not include getting doctor’s information or involving an occupational health consultant,” said Jamieson.