Working from home: Can Jacob Rees-Mogg force civil servants to return to the office?

Jacob Rees Mogg discusses civil servants amid passport delays

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Jacob Rees-Mogg, the minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, has been criticised for his efforts to see civil servants permanently return to their Westminster offices. The 52-year-old is said to consider it very important for the taxpayer to see that the Government is working properly and the Whitehall estate is well used.

Last week Mr Rees-Mogg left a note for civil servants who weren’t at their desks when he performed visits to several Government departments.

The news drew particular scrutiny from the FDA trade union, which represents civil servants and public service professionals.

In a statement, its General Secretary Dave Penman told that the notes were “demeaning” and acted as a “testament to just how disconnected Jacob Rees-Mogg is from the business of Government”.

He added: “With every pronouncement and display like this, he demonstrates that he has no clue how the modern workplace operates and cares little about the effective delivery of vital public services.

“Instead, he’s intent on virtue signalling to his political base, and is either oblivious to or simply doesn’t care about the damage he’s doing to the morale of civil servants and the reputation of the civil service as an employer.”

Do civil servants have to return to their offices?

Jonathan Bennet, an associate solicitor at London based law firm Berkley Rowe, told that the Civil Service, if it chose to, would be well within its rights to ask its employees to return to in-person working.

He said: “The short answer is yes, an employer, in this case the Civil Service, can ask an employee to return to the office to work full time, providing that the employee’s employment contract provides for working in a specified place of work full time.

“Though it is recommended that the employer gives reasonable notice of this requirement, rather than simply demanding that employees return immediately.

“The key for any employee looking to challenge such a decision by an employer is to look at the specific wording of their individual contract and see what is stated at the place of work clause.

“If your employment contract clearly states that you should work from a specified place of work and that your hours of work are full time at this address – or another address that can be reasonably notified to you – then a request to return to the office full time may well amount to a reasonable management request made on behalf of the employer.”

Mr Bennet explained that workers could instead look to make a flexible working request, something which employers must review fairly within three months of it being made.

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A flexible working request can be submitted once a person has worked at least 26 weeks for their current employer.

However, these can only be made once every 12-month period and carry the possibility of being rejected for “certain permitted business reasons”.

Anyone with a disability could also look to take advantage of the Equality Act 2010 which requires employers to proactively make reasonable adjustments to remove, reduce or prevent any disadvantages that disabled workers face.

The law recognises that to secure equality for disabled people, work may need to be structured differently, support given, and barriers removed – which could include working from home.

The solicitor added that anyone who wishes to fight against a request to stop working from home should “seek immediate legal advice at the earliest opportunity”.

He said: “It’s better to bring the strongest possible case to your employer at first instance, rather than make a weak request to work from home and then attempt to make it stronger.”

Mr Bennet recommended that anyone looking to contest a decision should first approach their line manager and HR department.

He added that the “best option” people can opt for is to seek legal advice from a Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) employment solicitor, use Citizens, or contact your union representative.

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