About 120,000 people work at Canary Wharf, but only a fraction have returned since the pandemic began © Getty Images

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Top executives at Canary Wharf Group avoided quarantine after overseas trips, coming into the office at the London financial district that they manage and drawing complaints from employees.

Shobi Khan, chief executive, returned to work a few days after a trip to the US in early September, said three people with knowledge of the matter. Howard Dawber, managing director of strategy, also returned to work shortly after a trip to Spain in the last month, these people said.

Most travellers from both countries are obliged to self-isolate for two weeks and risk a £1,000 fine if they break the law.

CWG said: “We apologise for any breaches of the guidance.”

However, a spokesman for the pair added that Mr Dawber was a resident of Spain and commuted to work at Canary Wharf. As such, he would be entitled to an exemption under the law as long as he travels at least once a week.

Mr Khan and Mr Dawber work at One Canada Square, the flagship building at Canary Wharf, the east London financial district that CWG owns and manages. At the skyscraper, the third tallest in the UK, the pair share space with tenants that include HSBC, Moody’s and MetLife.

Employees said they had raised concerns about their presence in the office via a formal complaints process, but those were dismissed or ignored. In addition, they said staff were told to attend face-to-face meetings with Mr Khan even after expressing concern. The executives had “shown a lack of care for colleagues”, said one employee.

Canary Wharf Group chief executive Shobi Khan

How quickly staff return to offices is a question of critical importance to CWG. About 120,000 people work on the estate, but only a fraction have returned since the pandemic began.

CWG has adapted the estate to accommodate the return of workers. Measures taken include the introduction of one-way systems, regular deep cleans and limits on the number of people allowed in lifts together. 

But two employees of the group said that in their view social-distancing measures were not being adequately applied within One Canada Square and they had felt pressured to return to the office.

Howard Dawber, managing director of strategy at Canary Wharf Group © Ben Cawthra/Shutterstock

Employers’ efforts to lure back employees were dealt a blow on Tuesday, when the government reversed its return to work policy, with prime minister Boris Johnson saying “we are asking office workers who can work from home to do so”.

In an email sent after that statement was made, and seen by the FT, Mr Khan told staff they were welcome to continue to work in the office or to follow Mr Johnson’s guidance.

Canadian asset manager Brookfield and the Qatar Investment Authority bought CWG in 2015. Brookfield has offices at One Canada Square.

Mr Khan was appointed chief executive last year after George Iacobescu, the mastermind of the estate, stepped aside at the age of 73 to become chairman.

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Mr Dawber, a former PR adviser at Bell Pottinger, has fought and lost two general elections as a Labour party candidate.

Aziz Rahman, senior partner at law firm Rahman Ravelli, confirmed that people residing in another country but returning to work in the UK at least once a week were exempt from self-isolation rules. 

“It’s in the legislation . . . but it’s a bizarre one. Logic dictates that non-essential people shouldn’t be coming into the UK if they are coming from a high-risk country — that’s putting people at risk.” he said.

CWG added that it was “committed to providing a safe working environment for its employees, tenants and all its stakeholders. Since February we have had a flexible home policy of working and we have advised all colleagues where there have been changing circumstances through this year. Following the latest change in government guidance we have reiterated the guidelines and all staff have been advised to work from home where they can. We are working hard to ensure the highest standards.”

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