New ‘work from home’ guidance comes into effect: what are your rights?

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Workers in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have been advised to work from home

New ‘work from home’ guidance comes into effect: what are your rights?
uk government work from home guidance rules changes what are your rights 2021
Government advice on working from home is changing CREDIT: Joe Giddens/PA

Boris Johnson issued guidance calling for Britons to “work from home” where possible from today.

Workers have returned to the office gradually in recent months as the number of coronavirus cases flatlined. However, the arrival of the omicron variant has triggered increased restrictions from the Government.

Following a meeting of the Cabinet, the Government asked all workers in England to stay away from the office and other work sites where possible.

In normal times, employers have the power to decide whether it is necessary for staff to be physically present at work. But the new guidance states that workers should stay away from workplaces unless it is strictly necessary. 

Here are your rights when it comes to flexible working:

Has official guidance changed?

Yes. As the new variant has spread, each of the four nations of the UK has introduced new guidelines.ADVERTISING

In England, the official guidance came into force from today, with people asked to work from home where possible. The Prime Minister said: “From Monday (December 13) work from home if you can, go to work if you must but work from home if you can.”

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has told workers to work from home where possible until at least the middle of January.

The devolved governments of Wales and Northern Ireland have also asked citizens to avoid the office where possible. 

What should my employer do to protect me at work? 

Those who still need to go into their workplace could face confusion over what rules should be followed.

The Government has removed all limits on how many people can meet at one time in workplaces, along with all social distancing measures. This means businesses do not have to keep workers and customers separated from people they do not live with. 

The Government relaxed its two-metre rule over the summer, but businesses still have a legal duty to manage the risks faced by their employees. 

Employers that do ask workers to come in have been told to put in place a number of measures to protect them from contracting coronavirus, such as keeping offices well ventilated. 

The measures can be found on the Government website

What about if you need to self-isolate?

Some workers will still need to go into their place of work to do their job. However, there are some instances when employees will be unable to attend, for example if they are required to self-isolate after testing positive or displaying coronavirus symptoms.

When employers are aware of the requirement to self-isolate, they must not knowingly allow the employee to attend the workplace, according to employment lawyers Eversheds Sutherland. Non-compliance risks a fine, starting from £1,000. 

Can I ask my employer for flexible working?

Yes, all employees have the right by law to request flexible working, which can include working from home. The only requirement is that they have worked for the employer for at least 26 weeks.

Employers can turn these requests down only if they have reasonable cause to do so, for example if the type of work involved cannot be done from home. They can refuse applications as long as they have a “good business reason”. 

A move to flexible working would be a permanent change to someone’s working arrangements and may be difficult to reverse. 

Alexandra Mizzi of Howard Kennedy, a legal firm, said employers often use the potential impact on performance as a reason to refuse working from home requests. 

“However, they will find it much harder to justify refusal when home working has worked out fairly well,” she added. 

Can I claim a working-from-home allowance?

The Government website states that you are able to claim tax relief for ‘additional household costs’ if you have to work from home on a regular basis – either for all or part of the week. 

Those who are eligible can claim tax relief for gas and electricity, metered water and business phone calls.

Applicants cannot claim for the entirety of the bill – just for that which relates to work – and you are not eligible if you choose to work from home.

The site states that you can apply for tax relief on £6 a week (for which you will not need to keep evidence of your extra costs), or the exact amount of extra costs you have incurred above the weekly amount (which will require documentation such as receipts, bills or contracts). You will then get tax relief based on the tax rate you pay.

This article has been updated with the latest guidance, following the news on Plan B.

Do you prefer to work in the office or at home? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

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