Since March 2020 when the Coronavirus pandemic hit the UK, many employees who have health issues were classified as clinically vulnerable, or extremely clinically vunerable, depending on their illness and were told to shield by the UK Government.
From April 2021, these employees are no longer being advised to shield, however the guidelines from the Government still recommend that these employees continue to take extra precautions in order to protect themselves; this includes still working from home if it is possible to do so, but if they can’t work from home, then now they are allowed to attend their workplace.
Employers have a duty of care to take all relevant steps in order to reduce the risk of exposure to Covid-19 in the workplace for all employees, and they must ensure they communicate the changes they have made to keep the workplace as safe as possible.
Employees refusing to work if they think it is not safe to do so
Some employees may feel that they do not want to go back to work or are unable to return to work yet. This could be because they:
- Are worried about catching Coronavirus
- Are at high risk of getting a severe illness if they catch coronavirus
- Are caring for children who are still off school
- Are living with a vulnerable person or a carer for a vulnerable person
Employers need to be understanding of employee’s concerns regarding Covid-19 and returning to the workplace, and must communicate to employees the measures in place to protect them. Employers also need to listen to employees specific concerns and address these concerns. By doing this, hopefully it can be mutually agreed for an employee to then return to work.
It is natural for an employee to feel anxious returning to work after a period of working from home or being furloughed. If an employee can no longer continue to work from home, then maybe flexible working could be looked at and changes made to the employees’ hours or shift patterns. Or, employers could look at allowing the employee to take a period of unpaid leave or holiday if this can be accommodated. Another option could be for the employee to remain furloughed, as the furlough scheme has been extended until September 2021.
If an employee does not attend work
If an employee does not attend work due to their concerns, an employer could notionally seek to dismiss an employee, however careful consideration needs to be taken in these cases due to protection under The Employment Rights Act on Health and Safety.
Section 44 of the 1996 Act enables employees to challenge the adequacy and the suitability of any safety arrangements at work without worry about losing their job.
Any dismissal in these cases would almost certainly be classed as unfair. Employees who raise concerns about their Health and Safety in a workplace may be able to successfully claim unfair dismissal with increased compensation and without needing a minimum period of service.
Note: If an employee refuses to attend work without any valid reason, this could result in disciplinary action under company disciplinary procedures.