Covid: Should I be working from home or going back to the office?

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People in England could be told to work from home once again if the government adopts its "Plan B" to deal with Covid through the autumn and winter.

In the rest of the UK, staff are still advised to work at home where possible.

What's the advice in England and how might it change?

Since Covid restrictions lifted on 19 July, people are no longer asked to work from home.

PM Boris Johnson recommended a "gradual return" for staff who'd been at home since the start of the pandemic.

But although social distancing limits no longer apply, businesses still have a legal duty to manage risks to staff and customers.

Employers must follow official safety guidance and carry out Covid risk assessments. They may decide to keep some previous measures in place, such as minimising unnecessary visitors, frequent cleaning and one-way systems.

Regular lateral flow testing remains widespread and there is more detailed guidance for some industries - including construction, hospitality and manufacturing. Read the specific advice for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Plan A and Plan B

The government has now published its Covid-19 Autumn and Winter Plan - which includes a Plan A and Plan B.

Much of Plan A focuses on the vaccine rollout:

  • booster jabs for over 50s, the most vulnerable and health workers
  • single jabs for 12-15 year olds
  • encouraging others who have not yet been vaccinated to come forward

But if despite this, the NHS struggles and there is "concerning data", Plan B (or parts of it) may be introduced - including advice to work from home once again for "a limited period".

Plan B could also see face coverings become mandatory again in certain settings and the introduction of so-called Covid passports.

Does working from home help stop Covid spreading?

Working from home is one of the most effective ways to reduce social contacts, according to the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

It has a "strong impact" against virus transmission and the R number, which is a way of rating a disease's ability to spread.

Keeping people at home greatly limits face-to-face contact - both at work and when commuting on public transport.

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance says if Covid cases start rising fast, there could be a case to bring back some restrictions.

"If you look across the Channel, at countries where you have similar levels of immunity and some higher degrees of restriction, you can see cases are going down."

What are the work-from-home rules in the rest of the UK?

In Scotland, most Covid restrictionshave been lifted, but people are still advised to work from home where possible. The government is encouraging employers to consider long-term hybrid models of home and office working.

In Wales, again, most Covid restrictions have been lifted, but employers are still encouraged to let people work from home where possible. Guidance says that staff should not be "required or placed under pressure to return" to a workplace unless there is a clear business need for them to do so.

Northern Ireland's guidance to work from home where possible also remains in place.

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Can I ask to keep working from home?

You can ask, but employers don't have to agree.

However, the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) - which represents HR professionals - says there could be much greater freedom and flexibility in how, when and where people work in future.

"People generally want a mix of workplace and home working, and the possibility of more choice in their working routines, meaning hybrid working can provide an effective balance for many workers."

The CIPD adds that the lifting of Covid restrictions "shouldn't signal a mass return to workplaces," and "it should be down to individual organisations, consulting with their people, to agree working arrangements".

How safe is public transport?

Wearing a mask helps, as does keeping windows open, and avoiding peak journey times where possible.

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What are my rights if I am in a vulnerable group?

Previous advice that millions of "clinically extremely vulnerable" people should shield, has now ended.

Many continue to work from home, but if your job cannot be done remotely, your employer can ask you to return to the workplace.

However, they still have a responsibility to keep you safe, so you should raise any specific concerns you have about going back.

In addition, if you are disabled, your employer has an extra responsibility to make and pay for "reasonable adjustments".

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