ONS Staff Threaten Industrial Action: Navigating Return-to-Office Demands

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is among the latest in a string of organisations issuing new return to office demands in the post-pandemic era. However, ONS staff have firmly rebuffed these mandates, opting instead to challenge the increasing constraints being imposed upon them.

In this article, we delve into the contentious matter, exploring each party’s motives and the potential consequences. Then, we broaden our scope to explore the wider issue at hand, delving into the underlying reasons behind employees’ rebellion. Finally, we scrutinise whether employers can compel staff to return to the office and the measures employees can take in such circumstances.

Regardless of your employer’s stance concerning a return to the office, employees have flexible working rights. If you believe your rights have been breached, contact Redmans Solicitors now. We are employment law specialists and can discuss your circumstances before advising you on your possible next steps.

To begin,

ONS Staff Contest Return to Office Demands

Like many organisations during the pandemic, the Office for National Statistics operated on a remote basis. However, following the conclusion of lockdown restrictions, the ONS allegedly promised that such flexibility would continue. That’s according to a spokesperson at the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, whereby over 1,000 of their members have agreed to defy the ONS’ new return to office demands.

Since last month, the recent directives have mandated that ONS staff be present in the office for 40% of their contracted hours. This marks a substantial increase from the 20% requirement brought in November 2023.

In the wake of promises for sustained flexibility post-pandemic, some employees made life-altering decisions such as starting families or relocating. Consequently, a spokesperson from the PCS emphasised how the ONS’s reversal could significantly impact individuals who made choices based on those assurances.

However, the ONS defended its stance, labelling its call for the workforce to return to the office as “reasonable”. They argued that current guidelines suggest 60% office attendance, making their requirements less demanding. Moreover, they reasoned their decision, claiming “face-to-face interaction supports personal collaboration, learning and innovation”.

Nevertheless, PCS members among ONS staff have been urged to take action short of a strike, refusing to comply with the new demands starting from 8 May. Instead, they’ve been encouraged to revert to the more flexible arrangements previously in effect. Despite the ONS’s confidence that their statistical production won’t be significantly affected, they expressed disappointment with the chosen course of action.

Unveiling the Resistance: Exploring Employee Opposition to Restricted Flexibility

The ONS staff aren’t the only ones rebelling against return-to-office demands. Employees at the likes of Starbucks, Walt Disney, and Amazon have all shown resistance to similar mandates. This raises the question: Why are employees against returning to the office?

While some employers believe face-to-face collaboration has benefits, many employees feel flexible working is the way forward. For instance, being able to work from home enables working parents to reduce their childcare costs. This is especially important in the current cost-of-living crisis, where childcare is costly.

Furthermore, with employees working from home, the need for commuting is eliminated. This not only saves employees money but also liberates their time, enabling them to accomplish more tasks efficiently.

Yet, the benefits continue. Flexible working arrangements also foster an enhanced work-life balance. By staying at home and eliminating lengthy commutes, employees gain precious time to pursue their personal interests. This is particularly noteworthy in an era where well-being has become a prominent focus in HR discussions.

Therefore, with employees wanting to enjoy such benefits, employers must tread carefully when removing flexibility. Failure to approach the topic correctly could result in employee action, reflective of that taken by the ONS staff.

Can I be Forced to Return to the Office?

The controversy surrounding the ONS staff may lead employees to question whether their employer can force a return to the office. In short, it depends. The terms within their contract will dictate whether their employer is permitted to do so. If an employee’s contract states their place of work as the office, the employer can likely force a return.

Supposing this is the case, employees could make a flexible working request if they wanted to remain at home. By law, employees have a day one right to request flexible working, and if pursued, the employer must deal with it in a ‘reasonable manner’, complying with legislation.

What’s more, individuals may have the potential to compel their employer to permit such flexibility. This could arise if the individual is legally classified as disabled and meets the criteria for reasonable adjustments. In such instances, once the individual has disclosed their disability to the employer, the employer is obligated to accommodate it.

If you have any questions after reading the case involving the ONS staff or believe your employer is infringing your flexible working rights, contact us today. Redmans Solicitors have years of experience, making us specialists in the employment law sector. Should you have an eligible case, we could help you navigate the legal process effectively.

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