Nicky Jolley, owner and managing director of HR2day in Darlington, has warned employers to be on their guard for COVID-related discrimination accusations, following reports of a flurry of legal claims.
Several employment tribunals have been launched by staff with long COVID or who are immunosuppressed, claiming that a physical return to work is not appropriate for them.
This comes after government advice changed, abandoning the ‘work from home if you can’ mantra and encouraging employees to return to the office.
A recent report found that many employers have chosen to financially settle these cases outside of court, rather than engaging in lengthy legal battles.
Nicky is advising employers to communicate openly with their teams before completely removing the opportunity to work from home, to avoid facing potential tribunal action.
She said: “Legally, some people with long COVID are considered to have a disability, so failing to accommodate them could raise issues under the Equalities Act.
“Employers should also consider the mental health of their staff, some of whom will have been working from home for more than 18 months and returning to the office full time without any transition could come as a shock. I would recommend being particularly mindful when dealing with staff members who had COVID or are clinically vulnerable.
“It is worth having an open conversation with staff, rather than issuing a diktat by email, and explaining your rationale for coming back to the office, taking questions and concerns as required.
“While I’m in no way suggesting that employers should be held to ransom by staff who want to work from home, taking the time to discuss returning to work could buy you some good favour, rather than costing a fortune.”