What to Do When Workers Refuse to Return to Office Work?

office work

The Prime Minister has confirmed that employees working remotely will be able to return to office work from July 19th. However, with Covid still being a concern for many, some employers may face a backlash from concerned employees.


  •  56% of workers report greater productivity while working from home. (Workday and Yonder Consulting Research)
  • 53% report less stress while at home. (Workday and Yonder Consulting Research)
  • 6% fear a return to office work at this stage of the pandemic. (Benenden Health)
  •  62% of business owners still wish for workers to return to office work despite fears. (Benenden Health)

Rishi Sunak Advocates Return to Office Work

The chancellor wishes for as many workers as possible to return to the office after July 19th. In an interview with the Telegraph, he would elaborate the increased importance for young people, stating:

“I think for young people, especially, that ability to be in your office, be in your workplace and learn from others more directly, is something that’s really important and I look forward to us slowly getting back to that.”

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor.

He would go on to discuss his conversations with a Wolverhampton mechanics training centre. He states the mechanics were “over the moon” to return to the workplace after training on zoom throughout the pandemic.

However, calls from the chancellor, some still hold that it should be the employees choice whether they return to office work, if they have shown they can still deliver from home.

The Danger of Forcing a Return to Office Work

One danger of forcing staff to return to the office after July 19th is that it may lead to a decline in staff retention. If staff are not allowed to work remotely out of ease or concerns about Covid, they may not wish to stay with the company. Additionally, forcing employees back into the office could risk legal action with claims of unfair dismissal if health and safety is found to be unlawfully practised in the workplace.

Facilitating a Return to Work for Employees

Employers who wish for an office return of workers should put themselves in their workers shoes, and consider their concerns. Legitimate reasons for hesitancy in returning to the office can range from anxiety, ill health and childcare responsibilities.

For the pregnant and those with health concerns, employers should seek input on how to make them feel safe while working from the office. They may also wish to consider organising risk assessments to better understand what measurements can be implemented.

Where anxiety poses a barrier for the return to work for employees, business owners may want to consider taking a slower, more relaxed approach to returning workers to office work. Furthermore, rather than an entirely in the office or remote working arrangement, employers may wish to ease workers back to work with more flexible working.

For more information regarding anxiety and mental health for employees, read this article on worker well-being and mental health in 2021.

 Avoiding Discrimination

Disabled employees may be subject to discrimination when asked to return to work, where home is already set up for their needs. Furthermore, for employees protected under the Equality Act 2010, employer’s should consider any reasonable adjustments necessary for their return.

Furthermore, employers should also make themselves aware of possible sex discrimination. This may arise when forcing women back into office work, as they often take on the majority of caring responsibilities. This is where a more flexible work approach may be a benefit. Furthermore, with a more flexible approach, workers can find a middle ground that satisfies both work requirements and home needs.

Want to find out more about how to avoid discrimination in office and remote working? Read this article on diversity and inclusion.

Covid-19 Safety Considerations

Despite the vaccine role out, Covid cases are set to increase coming out of social distancing restrictions on July 19th. Therefore, employers have a responsibility to ensure staff concerns are heard and that risk assessments are carried out. One issue for Covid safety coming out of the pandemic is the issue of face covering usage. Soon, face coverings will be optional. However, some employers may wish to implement face covering usage in the workplace as part of their own risk assessments. David Jepps, an employment partner at Keystone Law, emphasises this point stating:

“Employers may think it is appropriate to maintain mask wearing and social distancing in their workplaces, irrespective of government policies and be seen to do so in risk assessments”.

David Jepps, an employment partner at Keystone Law.

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