Employers aren't legally allowed to ask staff whether they've been vaccinated, an HR expert says.
However, she says it would be a "very unwise move" for an organisation to put in place a blanket ban on requests for remote working.
It comes ahead of the phased return to workplaces from next week.
Many staff will be returning to the office for the first time since the pandemic began, ahead of the planned lifting of all remaining COVID restrictions from October 22nd.
It's left many people wondering about their rights, and whether they can ask to continue working from home.
Caroline Reidy from the HR Suite told Lunchtime Live that staff have to follow what's in their contract, but many employers will likely try to strike a balance when it comes to staff returning to the office.
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She said: “Ultimately, your place of work is whatever is outlined in your contract of employment - if it says your workplace is ‘x location’, you’re required to go back there.
“However, from a realistic perspective, it’s important [for an employer] to engage with [that employee].
"If they don’t have childcare, what does that look like? If the employer just says ‘you must return’, for many workers that will mean they’ll be dusting off their CV and looking for a job that’s going to give them better flexibility.”
Workplace safety protocols will be required, but employers - and by extent their staff - won't know who is and isn't vaccinated.
Caroline said: “We’re legally not allowed ask. The Data Protection Commissioner has been very strict in her advice in relation to ensuring we don’t ask in general circumstances unless there is an exceptional reason.
“Just needing to know so you know isn’t a good enough reason.
“What we’re advising people… is to make sure we do lots of reassurance by doing a really good risk assessment, ensuring we’ve as much physical distancing as possible, looking at hand hygiene, looking at using masks.”
She also said there's likely to be a worker designated as a staff representative so they can flag any health & safety concerns with management.
She said it's likely a lot of organisations will be requiring mask-wearing for a while yet.
New workplace arrangements
After October 22nd - if the easing of restrictions goes ahead as planned - there’ll be no requirement to facilitate remote work “other than it being the right thing to do and to retain staff”.
Caroline said it's best for organisations to start engaging with staff now so they can start planning around whatever new arrangements will be in place.
She said: “It’s so difficult to get amazing staff, and it’s so important to retain the good ones that you have. It would, I feel, be a very unwise move to just put a blanket ban on everybody requesting the right to work remotely.
"We know there’s a code of practice being devised as we speak, which will be coming into place in Q4 of this year.”
The Government has said it's planning to give workers a right to request remote working, with legislation that will ensure "there are stated reasons" for an employer turning down a request.
Meanwhile, Caroline said it's vital to make sure staff know there is a sick pay scheme in place for anyone who has to restrict their movement or self-isolate due to COVID-19.
She also noted measures such as hot-desking are likely to be in place temporarily in order to facilitate a return to the workplace while following the rules around physical distancing.