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Coronavirus: Do I have to go back to work if I have health concerns?

Posted onPosted on 13th May

Employees who are not able to work from home are now being encouraged to return to the workplace as part of the government’s phased plan to get the economy back on track following the imposed coronavirus lockdown.

All UK businesses that ask their staff members to return to work have been informed they need to undertake a risk assessment and put in place various measures to protect their staff from contracting the coronavirus. However, despite this, many employees are still concerned about returning to work.

Laura Kearsley, partner in Nelsons’ expert employment law team, answers some questions and concerns that employees may have on returning to work due to the coronavirus.

My employer is re-opening my workplace, but I am concerned 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 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 employees can get reassurance that their safety is being taken seriously.

“Ultimately, if you do not attend work because of safety concerns, your employer could treat your absence as unauthorised and follow its disciplinary process.

“Employees do have legal rights not to be dismissed for raising health and safety claims but in the current climate, it would be preferable to try everything to resolve the situation without resorting to litigation, which could take many months.”

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 had a further letter from the government advising me to continue shielding yet my workplace has re-opened. What will my employer do?

“You should not return to work if you have been advised by the government to shield. This will apply only to those in receipt of a letter, who are in the extremely vulnerable category.

“If you can work from home, you should continue to do so. If you cannot work from home, you will need to agree with your employer how they will deal with your absence from work. “You are potentially eligible to be furloughed if they will agree to this and can access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).”

My partner is in a high-risk category, can I refuse to go back to work?

“Employees who have family members that are at greater risk from Covid-19 will understandably be concerned about returning to work. You should discuss your concerns with your employer and they should consider whether you can work from home, whether you can be furloughed or whether you can be reassured that your workplace is safe for you and your family.”

My workplace has re-opened but my children can’t go back to school yet, where do I stand?

“If you don’t have childcare, 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.”

Should my employer provide me with 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. It is 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.”

For more information on employee rights in the workplace, visit

For the latest government advice on coronavirus, visit