Staff at engineering company Dyson have raised concerns with management that they are being forced to return to their workplaces for the second time during an English lockdown, even when they feel they are able to carry out their work from home.
Dyson, which is owned by Britain’s richest person, Sir James Dyson, last week told all research and development staff that they must return to its two Wiltshire sites, at Malmesbury and Hullavington, with employees only allowed to work from home in “exceptional cases”.
The company in May told employees to return to the office, only to cancel its plan after employees objected. But staff told the Guardian they were concerned by the content of emails from senior managers telling them they should come to the office.
England began a second lockdown last week, with the country urged to work from home where possible. However, the stay-at-home order does not apply for work activities where “it is not reasonably possible” to do from home.
Dyson, which makes electrical products such as bagless vacuum cleaners and fans, is understood to believe it is on firm ground with its decision to ask workers to return to the office after business secretary Alok Sharma told employers at the annual conference of the Confederation of British Industries that research and development activities should continue.
Three staff, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Guardian that the decision, communicated in an email by chief executive Roland Krueger, had made many workers upset and angry. One person said that staff had been threatened with disciplinary action if they did not comply.
It is understood that about a third of Dyson’s 4,000 UK staff will be covered by the order. While some R&D jobs require labs for testing, some workers in software-focused roles feel they could continue to work from home, as they have done throughout England’s lockdowns.
Krueger’s email, seen by the Guardian, said: “I cannot hide that the impact of a lockdown is significant and that it will be damaging to Dyson. We all have a responsibility to ensure that projects do not fall further behind during this period and individuals must continue to come to Campus when required.”
James Dyson, who made his fortune as one of the UK’s most prominent inventors, last month told BBC radio that the return to workplaces would be crucial to recovering from the economic effects of the coronavirus. He is worth £16.2bn, according to the Sunday Times, although his company has struggled like many others during the pandemic, and it revealed 900 job cuts in July as it sought to cut costs.
A Dyson spokesman said: “The government has stated clearly that people who cannot work from home effectively should go to work and that ‘it is vital’ for manufacturing and R&D organisations to remain open.
“Three-quarters of Dyson people, who normally work from our campus, are currently working from home. For those whose role requires them to attend, we have deployed safe working measures that go significantly beyond government guidelines, reflecting that the safety and health of our team is the priority. These measures include the mandatory wearing of face masks and they are audited by third parties on a regular basis.”