COVID-19: Can My Boss Force Me To Go Back To Work?

By Joanna Sutton

Senior Associate

Last week the Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that from 1 August 2020 government guidance will change so that employees would no longer be required to work from home wherever possible.

Instead, from next month, employers will be able to decide where it is best for their employees to work, and will be allowed to require them to return to their normal workplace, provided it is ‘COVID-secure’.

What Does ‘COVID-secure’ Mean?

Employers will have to undertake a risk assessment and introduce measures to alleviate any risks identified which would make COVID-19 more likely to be transmitted amongst staff. For example, introducing more stringent cleaning arrangements, ensuring access to hand washing facilities and/or hand sanitiser.

Social distancing measures must continue to be followed so that employees are at least two metres apart. If that is not possible, the ‘one metre plus’ rule should be adhered to, with mitigations put in place to reduce the risk of transmission (such as the use of screens or requiring employees to work side to side or back to back, rather than directly facing one another, if possible).

Every workplace will be different, and the government has devised guidance on the measures that can be taken by different types of businesses, which is available on the GOV.UK website: Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19)

Can my boss force me to go to work if I don’t think it is safe?

You have the right to refuse to go to work if you have a reasonable belief that you are in serious and imminent danger.

Your employer should consult with you about the steps that are being taken to make the workplace safe, in accordance with their risk assessment. Employers who do not take appropriate steps can be reported to the Health and Safety Executive, who can force them to take action.

However, if your employer has done everything possible to make the workplace COVID-secure then you could face disciplinary action if you still refuse to go to work.

It is better to discuss any concerns with your employer openly and see if there are any other measures that could be put into place which might make you feel safer returning to work, for example adjusting your start and finish times to avoid travelling on public transport during busy periods, or reducing the number of people in your workplace at any one time. 

What happens if I have childcare issues?

With most schools now having broken up for summer holidays and other childcare options potentially not available, many employees will continue to experience childcare issues which may prevent them from being able to return to work.

The Prime Minister has hinted that employers will be expected to continue to be flexible to such circumstances and make adjustments to accommodate them wherever possible.

There are already existing employment rights in place to deal with childcare issues which would allow you to deal with childcare difficulties, such as parental leave or time off to care for a dependant, although the latter would only usually cover a limited period of time off.

Alternatively, your employer may be willing to allow you to continue to work from home, but they do not have to agree to this.

Can’t I just stay on furlough leave?

This is potentially an option but can only be done with your employer’s agreement. If they find that workloads are increasing, they may need you to return to work to assist with this so that it is not appropriate for you to continue to be furloughed.

If you are concerned about returning to work and would like some advice on your situation and the options available to you, please get in touch with our Employment Team on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our Team will be in touch.