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I’m being asked to go back to the office, what are my rights in the UK?

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My office is reopening, do I have to go back?

You can ask to work remotely on a permanent basis but your boss does not have to agree. Matt Gingell, an employment lawyer, says staff are not automatically entitled to flexible working unless the arrangement is part of their contract.

“Employees may make a request for flexible working but employers can turn it down for permitted business reasons,” he says. To apply, you need at least 26 weeks’ service and can ask only once in any 12-month period. Reasons for turning down an application include cost and fears it could hit performance.

Kathryn Barnes, Globalization Partners’ employment counsel for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, suggests all parties should be open with one another. “Considering the requirements of the business alongside employees’ ongoing health needs is imperative, and insisting on returning to the office without this consideration would be reckless,” she says.

Can my pay be reduced for home or hybrid working?

New working patterns during the pandemic may have allowed you to move somewhere with lower housing costs, or to save money on travel, which has led to suggestions companies could reduce pay or claw back top-ups for staff previously based in offices in expensive cities such as London. However, Barnes says you would have to agree to any salary reduction. “Where salaries are cut without consent and not paid in line with the employment contract, custom or practise of the law, this opens the employer up to a legal challenge that can be taken to court.”

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Can my employer force me to have the vaccine?

While it is legal for US firms to demand employees are vaccinated, that is not the case in the UK (although jabs will be compulsory for care home staff in England from autumn). “Although UK employers can encourage their workforce to get a vaccination, they cannot currently make it mandatory under UK law,” says Julian Hoskins, a partner at the law firm Bevan Brittan. “Hiring or firing decisions cannot be made based on whether or not an individual has been vaccinated.”

What about my unvaccinated colleagues or Covid safety concerns?

If you feel uncomfortable because colleagues have opted out of being jabbed you could ask to work remotely or seek other changes to your working environment. However, Barnes says: “No one person’s right outweighs another’s when it comes to an individual’s decision to have the vaccine. It’s easy to cast judgment, but neither employers nor colleagues have a right to impose what team members should or shouldn’t do.”

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggests employers take steps that give workers confidence their office is Covid safe. This could mean keeping measures such as one-way systems or back-to-back working. If you are worried, your options include contacting your local authority, Citizens Advice or the Health and Safety Executive.

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What if I am in a vulnerable group or live with someone who is?

The answer depends on whether your decision to shield is medical or personal. If there are medical grounds, supported by your GP, and working from home is possible, then such an arrangement should be accepted. If not, your employer can ask you to go back to the office.

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Sarah Evans, a partner at Constantine Law, which is based in London, says if you are in poor health you have the right to request remote working, but – as above – no absolute right for it to be granted. She suggests checking if you qualify for protection as a disabled individual, and so have the right to reasonable adjustments which may include remote working. There is less protection if you have a sick relative, but again you can request flexible working and may have a sympathetic employer.