What can I do if I don’t want to return to the workplace?

Karen Holden from A City Law Firm advises older workers on what they can do if they feel they are being forced back to the workplace now restrictions are being eased.

"Employee Rights" written on paper


Now that we are starting to see life return to a new ‘normal’, we are seeing some employers ask people to return to the workplace. For some, this is an exciting prospect, but many may be anxious and not wish to go back, preferring more flexible options. Both reactions are understandable. So, what should someone who wants to stay out of the office, but keep working, do?

1. Contract

In the first instance, an employee should always look at their employment contract and staff handbook/policies to be guided on what rights you have in terms of flexible working.

2. Discuss

If the above is not helpful, discuss with your employer. Tell them what your ideal situation would be and why. A good employer should give due consideration and document the process, using good communication to find a compromise. Employers have a duty of care to you and must treat you reasonably and fairly when dealing with your concerns. Remember, your employer still has a responsibility to keep you safe, so raise any concerns you have. If you feel unsafe, you can contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), who can carry out inspections and force workplaces to adhere to relevant standards.

Your employer will need to carefully consider the Equality Act, making sure not to discriminate against you, or treat you less favourably, based on any mental health concerns or disability. They should also consider occupational health requirements and document all processes, keeping up-to-date risk assessments for all to review.

3. Statutory application

If your employer is reluctant to offer you flexible working (for instance, part-time hours, remote working or flexible hours) after an informal discussion, you have a legal right to formally request it. This is known as a ‘statutory application’. Bear in mind, that you must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to make a statutory application.

Your employer must deal with your request in a reasonable manner. This means they must assess the pros and cons of your application. They must also take your application seriously and hold a meeting with you to discuss it in detail.

If an employer does not handle a request in a reasonable manner, or uses your application against you, you can take them to an employment tribunal to challenge the decision. Usually this must be done within three months.

It is worth noting that an employer can refuse an application if they have a good business reason for doing so. However, they cannot discriminate in their decision-making process based on any protected characteristic, including age.

However, if your employer has a blanket policy for no flexible working, that is backed up by a good business reason, then there is no legal obligation for your employer to accept your request.

If you need any advice on your rights as a working mum when it comes to navigating the complexities of employment law, please reach out to the experienced team at A City Law Firm, who will be delighted to assist you.

*Karen Holden is founder of A City Law Firm.

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