Law firm workers have told the Gazette they are being forced to come into offices unnecessarily during lockdown – and ordered to keep quiet if they have concerns.
Staff at firms in different parts of the country have reported confidentially that they fear for their safety because bosses do not trust them to work remotely.
Government guidance does not explicitly prevent staff from coming into the office but states that people should leave home for work only ‘where it is unreasonable’ for them to do the job from home. Office workers should work from home if they can and employers must ensure workplaces are safe for anyone who cannot do so.
One solicitor told us their firm had implemented ‘minimal’ safety measures, telling workers that home working was impossible because phones could not be connected. Colleagues who had Covid scares were told to keep quiet and those with negative tests ordered straight back into the office despite government advice to keep isolating.
Another lawyer said her firm had been unhappy with productivity and billing levels during the lockdown last spring and had banned home working this time. Staff who are medically vulnerable and struggling with mental health issues have been ordered in, with the threat of losing their jobs if they refuse.
A worker at another firm said colleagues were told to work from the office or take unpaid leave. This has applied even to people who live with elderly or vulnerable people.
‘Everyone is worried or frightened,’ the worker said.
Law Society guidance states that firms should make ‘every reasonable effort’ to enable working from home as a first option, and that ‘no one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment’. If staff have to be in the office, they should observe social distancing.
The Society stresses that government guidance does not supersede any legal obligations relating to health and safety, employment or equalities, and existing obligations must be complied with, including those related to staff with protected characteristics.
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