These are the rules offices have to follow before workers can return - and your rights to refuse to go back

Offices must undertake a health and safety risk assessment to ensure they are Covid-secure (Photo: Shutterstock)Offices must undertake a health and safety risk assessment to ensure they are Covid-secure (Photo: Shutterstock)
Offices must undertake a health and safety risk assessment to ensure they are Covid-secure (Photo: Shutterstock)

Workers are being urged to start returning to offices, with the UK government launching a new ad campaign this week to encourage people to head back to workplaces.

On 1 August the government scrapped its work from home slogan, but many businesses have continued to allow staff to remain home-based, with studies showing many staff prefer it.

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But with home working now becoming the norm, there are fears that the current work culture could put city centres and towns at risk of becoming abandoned.

The lack of footfall could potentially put hundreds of jobs at risk in the likes of cafes, restaurants and bars, which workers would usually frequent after leaving the office.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has insisted it is now safe for workers to return to their desks, but there are certain requirements businesses are required to put in place by law to ensure people are not put at risk in an unsafe environment.

What rules do offices have to follow?

Before reopening to workers, offices must undertake a health and safety risk assessment to ensure they are Covid-secure.

This includes the following requirements:

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Staggered work shifts

Shifts should be staggered to ensure offices are not overcrowded and to avoid a commuter rush at peak times.

Provide hand washing facilities

Businesses must provide hand washing facilities and hand sanitiser stations near entry and exit points to minimise the risk of transmission.

Reduced capacity

There should be as few staff members as possible in the same room for a period of time, with bosses asked to avoid large meetings and to take measures to ensure workers are not all taking the lift at the same time to return to their desk.

Social distancing

Employers need to make sure staff are able to stay socially distant while carrying out their jobs, or one metre apart if extra precautions are being taken.

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Work stations should be kept at least two metres apart to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. This distance can be reduced to one metre if two is not possible, providing extra precautions are in place, such as perspex screens, or positioning employees back to back.

No shared equipment

Employers should provide staff with their own equipment to avoid sharing between colleagues.

Staff who are required to hot desk should be given access to cleaning products to wipe down the equipment between uses.

Improved ventilation

Offices should increase the ventilation in the building, including keeping windows and doors open where possible, and making use of ceiling and desk fans to help improve air circulation.

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Can I refuse to go back to the office?

Employers have the right to tell you where they would like you to work, according to Citizens Advice, meaning workers will have to return to offices if they are asked to.

If you refuse to go back into work and you do not have reasonable grounds for doing so, your could risk losing your job. However, if you have been employed for two years or more, you may have grounds to take the company to an employment tribunal if you think you have been unfairly dismissed.

If you feel that your workplace is not following the Covid-secure guidelines, you should speak to your employer before returning and consider how the safety of the environment can be improved.

Employees have the right not to lose their job for raising concerns about a health and safety issue, and can take it to a tribunal for unfair dismissal.

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Shielding workers have been told that it's safe to return to the office since the start of August, if they cannot do their job from home. Citizens Advice says that if you were on the shielding list and have been able to do all of your job from home, your employer should not force you to return to the office.

Whitehall sources have also insisted the new government campaign for returning to work will not put those who continue to work from home at any greater risk of losing their jobs.

Labour's shadow business minister, Lucy Powell, said no one should be forced "to choose between their health and their job" and the government should "categorically rule out" any campaign suggesting people could be out of a job if they refused to return to the office.