Post room staff at DLA Piper were given papers stating they were key workers in case they were challenged by the authorities on their way to work.
Ricoh, the outsourcing company which employs the workers, said it was an error.
In a meeting on 5 January, the day after the latest lockdown in England was announced, Ricoh staff who work for DLA Piper were handed a letter "to use as a way of circumnavigating the key worker rules", claimed a source. Ricoh denied that was their purpose.
The Ricoh letter, leaked to RollOnFriday, states that it has been provided "to facilitate movement of our workers where this may be limited".
The letter claims that Ricoh "undertakes supports [sp] front line organisations, such as the NHS, hospital trusts, police forces, supply chain organisations, local councils and food manufacturing sites". For some reason, 'global corporate law firms' was omitted from the list or worthy organisations.
"To ensure the seamless operation of these key and critical organisations at this difficult time, we have defined our site service specialists as Key Workers to be able to continue to support office technology and communication requirements", the letter states.
"As a defined key worker, we have provided this letter to our employees to evidence the reasoning behind the classification", asserts the letter.
Under the lockdown rules, people may not go to work unless they cannot reasonably work from home, while employers must take "every possible step" to facilitate their employees working from home.
Any company which can categorise its employees as key workers will avoid the extra costs and business interruption caused by those stipulations. However, the list of key workers provided by the government would not appear to encompass law firm staff.
An insider said they understood how the Ricoh letter might validly apply to its employees working in the NHS, "but obviously", for "someone who works in a post room for a corporate law firm that's, in my opinion, taking the piss".
A source said they were "almost certain" that DLA Piper had "no knowledge of us being asked to use these too".
DLA Piper concurred. “DLA Piper was not aware of the note, and it was not a note specific to Ricoh staff working at DLA Piper", said a spokesperson. "As soon as we became aware we raised the issue with Ricoh and they confirmed to us they had identified the mistake and were already taking steps to rectify their error.”
A Ricoh spokesperson said, "We’re proud to be responsible for hundreds of key and essential workers, and we regularly share communications designed to ensure that staff can travel where needed in support of those working on the front line in industries such as NHS trusts, care homes and food distribution centers, or in business roles that cannot be carried out from home such as print and post rooms".
"Following the government announcement of the most recent lockdown, a letter was circulated that incorrectly categorised some of our essential workers as key workers. An updated communication has since been shared and the issue is resolved."
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