Businesses brace for a succession of legal challenges from staff reluctant to return to the office and seek legal advice on their rights, I can reveal.
Clashes between employers and employees over working from home are expected to peak this summer as lockdowns are lifted and the leave ends.
Reputational damage to employers who reinforce their staff could affect their bottom line, human resources advisers say.
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The Peninsula employment law consultancy has answered calls from many companies whose employees do not wish to return to their offices.
“If a business says, ‘We want you to come back now,’ they have to make sure they have a business reason for it. But there’s nothing stopping them from doing it by simply saying “You work better here,” said Kate Palmer, director of human resources advice and consulting for the UK branch of the company.
However, Ms Palmer added, “An employee may say that I don’t think your request is reasonable because I believe that by going back there is a serious and imminent threat to my safety. We are seeing more and more employees saying this right now.
Bosses might deem such a response unreasonable and insist that there is no reason to deny a return request – but, Ms. Palmer warned, employers should “think carefully” before doing so.
“It’s not just the risk of litigation – they have to think about generating interest in the roles, retention and team morale, which are fundamental to the success of the business. “
Glaisyers Solicitors, headquartered in Manchester, is already advising several employers dealing with disputes related to the pandemic.
“The very common problem… are employees complaining that they are afraid to return to work,” said Russell Brown, partner and head of employment law at the firm.
Mr Brown predicts “a lot of litigation” centered on unfair dismissal claims among employees who are fired after refusing to return to the office.
While employers are not responsible for their employees during the commute, staff who bring unfair dismissal action for health and safety reasons may report concerns about the dangers of using public transport to get to the city. job.
In such cases, applicants do not have to prove that their health or safety was in serious or imminent danger – they just have to show that they really believed it was true.
“Some employees will say ‘I’m at risk’, employers will say ‘You are not in danger’ and lay off [them] – this is where you will have complaints, ”Brown said.
Peter Kelly, Legal Director of the Personal Injury Team at Lime Solicitors: “I have no doubt that the claims will be filed in due time.
“Yes [employers] take an approach where they require everyone to be in, so they won’t keep the employees, ”he added.