The Government has cautiously been encouraging employers to bring their employees back to the workplace following several months of working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This week a campaign was launched by the Government asking businesses to reassure their employees that it is safe to return to the workplace by highlighting measures taken to prevent the spread of the virus. Although, this message was slightly contradicted by comments made by Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, who said that he cared more about how employees performed than where they were working.
Employment rights on returning to work following the coronavirus lockdown – advice to employees
All UK businesses have a legal responsibility to have undertaken a risk assessment and put in place various measures to protect their staff from contracting Covid-19. However, despite this, many employees are still concerned about returning to work for a variety of reasons.
Below, we have answered some questions and concerns that employees may have on returning to work due to the coronavirus.
What measures should my employer be taking to keep me safe?
- Observing the one metre plus social distancing rule
- One way systems to minimise contact
- Frequent cleaning regimes
My employer is re-opening my workplace but I am concerned that there isn’t space to maintain social distancing, do I have to go back to work if I am concerned for my health and safety?
The Government has been, and still is, urging employers and employees to discuss concerns they might have and approaches to ensuring that workplaces are safe. The Government has issued extensive guidance for employers to ensure that workplaces are “COVID-19 secure” and this includes completing a risk assessment.
Employees should offer suggestions to their employer if they think there are other measures that could be taken to protect the workforce. We recommend trying to maintain an open dialogue so that employees can get reassurance that their safety is being taken seriously.
Ultimately, if you do not attend work despite being asked to, your employer could treat your absence as unauthorised and follow its disciplinary process.
However, employees do have legal rights not to be dismissed because they have raised health and safety claims. In the current climate it would be preferable to try everything to resolve the situation without resorting to litigation which could take many months and can be very costly.
I have colleagues that don’t adhere to the social distancing rules at work, what shall I do?
You should make your employer aware straight away and they should deal with this issue, potentially under the disciplinary policy.
I have been shielding, can I refuse to go back to work?
From 1st August, those in shielding categories are no longer required not to attend work and so this will not necessarily be a valid reason for you or members of your household not to attend work. You should discuss any concerns with your employer as they may be able to reassure you about measures in place and work with you to allay any fears.
My workplace has re-opened but I don’t have childcare yet, where do I stand?
If you don’t have childcare then returning to work might not be an option for you. You can discuss with your employer whether you can be furloughed (or remain on furlough for now) or whether you can work from home in some capacity. There may also be an option to take some annual leave or unpaid leave.
Should my employer provide me with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?
There is no blanket requirement that all employees who attend work need PPE. The guidance is specific to different industries/sectors and generally, if social distancing can be maintained, PPE will not be compulsory. You should discuss any specific concerns or requirements with your employer.
I have raised concerns with my employer that I don’t feel safe but they aren’t listening, what else should I do?
If you have raised concerns with senior management but you don’t feel they have been addressed, you can consider whether to contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) about your concerns. They are the Government body with responsibility for safety in the workplace and can take enforcement action against employers who are lacking.
If you are in a dispute with your employer, you could also consider contacting Acas, the Government body that conciliate employment disputes.
Can my boss make me come back?
If you have been asked to return to work then you will be deemed to be absent without authorisation if you don’t show up. You are unlikely to get paid for this and it may also be considered as a disciplinary offence.
Employees do have a right under health and safety rules to protect themselves from danger but it will be much more reasonable to discuss concerns with your employer and seek reassurance rather than just failing to attend.
Can I asked to continue to be furloughed?
Furlough requires the agreement of both parties (employer and employee) so employees would need to seek agreement from their employer for any period of furlough to continue.
Since the start of September, the Government is to pay 70% of salary up to a monthly cap of £2,187.50, with employers being required to top up salary to 80% up to a cap of £2,500 and pay employer’s National Insurance contributions and pension contributions (employer contributions will increase in October as the scheme is gradually wound down). As a result, employers are less likely to agree to their employee’s furlough being extended, especially if they have work for their staff to do.
If workloads have not picked up or employees have childcare issues, employers can consider continuing furlough or moving to flexible furlough instead so it is worth discussing this with your employer.