For many of us, the last few weeks have been very unusual from a working point of view. Some of us have been working from home, while others have been on furlough and not working at all.
However, as the government has signalled a slight easing of the lockdown, the thoughts of some employers and employees have turned to returning to the workplace. What are the practicalities of this?
- the current government guidance is to continue to work from home where possible, so for those who can continue to work from home, e.g. office workers, nothing has changed;
- for those businesses where a return to work is being considered, it is important for there to be as much dialogue as possible between the employer and the employees in relation to all of the practicalities of the return to work, so for example things like any changes to the set-up of the workplace, which employees are to return, and whether employees are to return in phases;
- employers have a legal obligation to make the workplace as safe as possible for employees, so will need to consider this, in particular in light of Covid-19. Employers should bear in mind that a breach of health and safety legislation can lead to criminal penalties;
- some employees may have concerns about returning to work (particularly in relation to safety) and they should be encouraged to discuss any such issues with the employer with a view to resolving them;
- employers should try to be practical in dealing with concerns about returning to work, and consider options such as allowing employees to change their hours temporarily so as to avoid travelling on public transport at peak time, or finding extra car parking spaces near the workplace to allow employees to drive in to work;
- if an employee simply refuses to return to work, then the employer should establish why this is before taking any action. An employee who can show that the refusal is based on a belief that the return to work would put them in danger would potentially have the right to bring a claim against their employer if they were treated badly as a result of their refusal. This underlines the need for good communication between the employer and employees to explain how the workplace is safe;
- if someone starts to display symptoms of Covid-19 while at work, the government guidance is for them to be immediately sent home to self-isolate;
- it has been reported that the government may enshrine the right to work from home in law, if an employee considers it unsafe to return to work. That is something to look out for.
The law stated in this article is correct as of 21 May 2020.
If you have any employment law queries, please do not hesitate to contact David Nathan at [email protected] or on 020 7822 2247.
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