A union for legal sector workers has urged fee-earners allowed to work from home “to show solidarity” with administrative staff at their firms who have not been.
Earlier this week, the Legal Sector Workers Union (LSWU) – which represents qualified lawyers as well as a very wide range of other workers in the legal sector – expressed outrage at the “classist allocation of risk” that was seeing law firm partners work from home while other staff were forced into the office during the coronavirus pandemic.
It has since tweeted that the data it has collected showed “a common pattern emerging” of fee-earners working from home, whilst administrative staff were made to continue going into the office.
It said: “The justification? That these roles are ‘location-based’. In reality, workplaces have often simply not invested in or explored the technologies which would allow these workers to work from home.
“Fee-earners need to show solidarity with their admin colleagues here, and put pressure on management to make sure that all workers are valued equally.”
It highlighted the measures that London legal aid firm Birnberg Peirce has put in place as an example of good practice:
- Using a telephone system which integrates with Outlook to divert reception calls to the receptionist’s mobile, which they can then divert to fee-earners;
- Creating a rota system for the opening of physical post to be shared between workers who can cycle or walk to the office. Alternatively, post could be diverted to a worker’s home address by requesting this from the Post Office;
- Providing work laptops and phones to those workers who previously did not have them because they were solely office-based; and
- For those jobs that are truly location-based (e.g. outdoor clerk) and even on zero-hours contracts, the firm is keeping such workers on full pay whilst the office is closed.
Earlier this week, the union said it members at a “major legal aid firm” had successfully lobbied management and won the “total reversal” of a work from home policy for “hundreds” of workers.
It tweeted: “Power of numbers in action. Next step: contractual sick pay.”
The LSWU has also warned firms it would take action if staff were dismissed for leaving offices due to health concerns.
The Law Society, on its website, says firms must act “consistently and fairly across your organisation” when it comes to work from home policies.
“If you refuse to allow employees to stay at home and this goes against the advice of the government or Public Health England, then you will be at risk of facing a strong legal claim,” it said.
Meanwhile, the Bar Council has confirmed that barristers are included in the definition of ‘key workers’ whose children will be prioritised for education provision during the pandemic. The Department of Education announcement this morning referred simply to “those essential to the running of the justice system” as being key workers.
Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council, said: “Barristers have a vital role to play in making justice happen every day. So, it is absolutely right that they are considered key workers, thereby allowing their children to attend nursery, school or college, while they carry on working for the public.
“It shows that the government takes seriously its commitment to justice as an essential part in our democracy. Even in the midst of the Covid-19 storm, the justice system must continue to function.
“We are pleased that sensible measures are being taken in the justice system to reduce the health risks that Covid-19 presents. The courts and the Bar will adapt to the norm being remote hearings by video or telephone and, only unusually, in person.
“Many members of the profession were very concerned that they would not be able to work if they had to care for their children during court hours. The Bar Council raised this major issue with the Lord Chancellor and we are delighted that barristers can continue to represent the public in these difficult times.”