Employers should not be using threats like redundancy to “intimidate” workers into coming back to the office, the First Minister has said.
The default position in Scotland remains to work from home wherever possible, and non-essential offices and call centres have not yet been given a reopening date.
Addressing Friday’s Covid-19 briefing, Nicola Sturgeon said bringing all office workers back at once creates “too high a risk” of the virus rapidly spreading again.
She was responding to a question about a new UK Government campaign encouraging employees to return to offices in England.
Sturgeon acknowledged she wanted things to “get back to normal as quickly as possible”.
But she added: “That has to be done in the context of continuing to suppress the virus.
“Our judgment so far has been… that the numbers involved, if we simply get back to everybody going to offices or call centres as normal, and the pressure on our public transport system – and physical distancing is important there – would create in our view right now too high a risk of the virus spreading very quickly.
“That would then compromise our route out of lockdown, perhaps take us backwards, and it would also significantly compromise, in our judgment, the ability to keep schools safely open.”
The UK Government is planning a regional media blitz in England to promote new messaging encouraging people back to their workplaces.
It comes amid fears that working from home is wrecking local economies in city centres and towns as commuter numbers plummet.
An unnamed Whitehall source suggested to the Telegraph newspaper that those opting to continue working from home could make themselves more “vulnerable” to redundancy in any post-Covid business shake-ups.
Other government sources later poured cold water on that idea.
Addressing this, the First Minister said: “I will not countenance in Scotland any kind of narrative around this that is seeking to almost intimidate people back to work before, as a country, we have taken the decision that is safe.
“People should not be told, if you don’t get back to work in an office right now, if you’re still working from home, you might be at greater risk of being made redundant or sacked.
“I don’t think that is the kind of approach that we want to take here.
“Individuals and indeed businesses should have the right to expect to look to government for advice about what is safe to do and on what timescale.”