Boris Johnson warns ‘our freedoms must come with a warning’ – know your reopening rights

Boris Johnson says he is 'deeply sorry' for coronavirus losses

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Boris Johnson will host a live news conference this evening, where the Prime Minister is expected to lift the vast majority of coronavirus restrictions. This could include the removal of limitations on how many people can gather and social distancing requirements.

On reopening, Mr Johnson had the following to say: “We are tantalisingly close to the final milestone in our roadmap out of lockdown, but the plan to restore our freedoms must come with a warning.

“While the phenomenal vaccine rollout has offered every adult some protection against the virus, and the crucial link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths is weakened, the global pandemic is not over yet.

“Cases will rise as we unlock, so as we confirm our plans today, our message will be clear. Caution is absolutely vital, and we must all take responsibility so we don’t undo our progress, ensuring we continue to protect our NHS.”

With relative freedom set to return, workers, who have been forced to work from home for over a year, may find themselves heading back into the office.

However, these returns may not be so cut and dry as coronavirus related apprehension could linger and as such, Citizens Advice recently issued guidance on what people’s rights are if they’ve been working from home and suddenly face change.

This includes guidance on what employers can and can’t enforce and what options are available to workers.

Fortunately, for worried staff members, there are many areas in which the law is on their side.

I’ve been working from home, can my employer ask me to return to my normal workplace?

Citizens Advice began with a very clear clarification: “The short answer is yes.

“When you enter into a contract to work for an employer you have to comply with ‘reasonable management requests’. That means your employer can ask you to return to your normal workplace if your original contract specified that you would be office-based or based elsewhere.

“In practice, many employers are looking into or actively encouraging a blended working model – some time at home – some time in the office/workplace.

“You can ask to keep working from home, but that doesn’t mean your employer has to agree. Start by having an open conversation with your employer about your wishes, and consider making a flexible working request, which is a legal right all employees have. You can include your reasons why working from home is better for you and will also help the business.”

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What can I do if I’m worried about safety measures at work?

The Government has put a lot of effort and resources into the vaccine rollout and as such, it has been claimed the impact of coronavirus has been reduced in recent months.

Despite this however, the threat has not been completely removed and many believe the UK will need to learn to live with coronavirus in a similar way to flu cycles.

With this in mind, Citizens Advice went on to break down what employers must do to ensure (as much as possible) a safe environment: “Your employer has a legal duty under the law, and under your contract, to ensure that your workplace does not pose a risk to your health and safety. Current guidance says employers should complete a Covid risk assessment and take steps to prevent transmission, including frequent cleaning and social distancing. This is due to be updated.

“While wearing a mask in an enclosed space will no longer be mandatory, employers will still be free to set their own policies or rules in place to require workers or customers to wear masks.

“If you are unhappy with safety measures at your workplace, you could report your employer to the Health and Safety Executive, but ideally you and your employer can solve the issues together.”

I’m uncomfortable about taking public transport, what are my options?

This can also stretch to workers commutes, as Citizens Advice continue: “Your employer’s duty is limited to things that are under its control, and so there is no clear legal position about whether it has to take into account the risks you face when travelling to and from work, as part of its health and safety assessment.

“That said, your employer should listen to your concerns if you’re worried about having to use public transport after being called back into work.

“You could reach an arrangement that you’re comfortable with, for example, asking to travel at quieter times of the day.”

Citizens Advice concluded by examining what people should do if, despite best efforts, coronavirus emerges to press pause on all normality plans.

What happens if I need to self-isolate?

Boris Johnson detailed, essentially, that returning to normal must happen now or never but despite this rhetoric, the Prime Minister also confirmed infection rates will still be monitored going forward.

The need to self-isolate is likely to still be a continued reality going forward and as such, Citizens Advice broke down what people need to do if they’re forced to stay at home: “You shouldn’t go into work if you’re self-isolating because you have coronavirus symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

“You must tell your employer that you have to self-isolate. It’s worth telling them in writing so you have a record for later use.

“If you’re unable to work from home, you may be entitled to benefits, sick pay or a self-isolation payment of £500 from your local council. If you’ve been furloughed before by your employer, you might also be able to furlough you for the period you need to self-isolate. See the Citizens Advice website for more information.

“Remember that the rules on self-isolating are changing. From August 16, if you’ve had your second vaccination, you won’t need to self-isolate if you have been in contact with someone who’s tested positive for coronavirus. If you have symptoms you’ll need to self-isolate until you get tested.”

Matthew Bradbury, an Employment Expert at Citizens Advice, concluded on this advice: “With restrictions ending and workplaces reopening, people will understandably have questions about their rights. While you can ask to continue working from home, your employer doesn’t have to agree.

“If you have any concerns, it’s important to talk with your employer as soon as possible so that you can reach a solution that works for both of you.

“For more information visit the Citizens Advice website, and if you need one-to-one help contact your nearest Citizens Advice.”

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