Coronavirus: Do I have to return to the workplace?

The start of this month sees the biggest relaxation of the coronavirus restrictions since the lockdown was imposed three months ago.

Shops, restaurants, museums, hairdressers and pubs are all being allowed to reopen in one form or another – meaning tens of thousands of us are being asked to go back to our workplace for the first time in more than 100 days.

For many of us, this will be an anxious time.

We have got used to isolating and the thought of mingling with people again – certainly whilst the virus is still at large in the population – can be worrying.

But we all have rights which will help protect us in the workplace – or even if we can continue to work from home – and help keep us safe from the threat of Covid.

The first thing to bear in mind is that the Government’s official advice is to still work from home if it is possible for you to do so. Clearly this will be difficult for many front-line workers in the retail and tourism sectors, but there are still a great many backroom staff who can operate just as effectively at home as in the workplace.

If your boss demands that you return, ask them which of your specific duties cannot be done from home. If they cannot point to any, then you should discuss continuing to work remotely and talk about why you feel a return to the workplace is unnecessary.

Remember, under employment law, all employees have the right to request flexible working hours, which you could use in this instance. These requests can only be denied if the employer can show that they have a reasonable cause for doing so, which in the current climate might be difficult.

And if you are in a vulnerable category and are shielding, you should remain at home until the end of this month, at which point the Government says you should return to work. Anybody in this group who feels pressured into returning to work early could well have a claim under discrimination legislation if they feel they are being putting at risk.

But if you are not shielding and your job does require you to be at your workplace, what protections should be in place?

Your employer must carry out a risk assessment before reopening and then implement any steps needed to ensure that staff are safe at all times. This may be something as simple as introducing extra hand washing stations, reorganising the workplace to maintain social distancing or putting up screens between workstations.

But it may also involve more fundamental changes to your business – such as splitting the workforce into staggered shifts so that staff are able to maintain their distance from each other or installing new ventilation systems.

The Government is now recommending we should stay at least one metre apart at all times – but if this is not possible in the workplace, employees should be issued with personal protective equipment and allowed to wear face coverings.

If measures are not put in place to make the workplace as safe as possible, employees could bring legal action against their bosses for breach of their duty of care, or even under health and safety legislation.

The situation is changing all the time, so if you do have any concerns we recommend getting professional advice as soon as possible. Our free consultation is a great place to start. Just click the button and we’ll take it from there.

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