Can I refuse to go to work during coronavirus second wave or local lockdown?

Can I refuse to go to work during coronavirus second wave or local lockdown?

September 22, 2020

AS the UK is placed under tougher coronavirus restrictions, we explain your rights if you're worried about going to work.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson today revealed his next steps to help Britain avoid a second wave of the virus.

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Brits are now being told to work from home if they can, in a huge shift from the previous government "back to work" message.

It comes as new daily coronavirus cases for Britain have continued to rise in recent weeks, with the UK Covid alert level being raised from three to four.

But do you have to go to work if you're worried about coronavirus? And what happens if you've contracted the virus or you're showing symptoms?

Ultimately, your place of employment needs to be Covid-secure.

The PM has also relaxed rules on using public transport so Brits can travel to the office, as well as reopening schools for children.

Can my boss sack me if I don’t got back to work?

IF you refuse to go back into work and you don’t have reasonable grounds for doing so, such as a health reason, your employer can sack you.

But if you've worked for your employer for two years or more you may, however, have grounds to take your company to an employment tribunal if you think you've been unfairly dismissed.

Equally, if you think you've been dismissed because of discriminatory reasons, such as your age, race, gender or because of a disability, then you may have grounds for a discrimination claim.

It is automatically unfair to be dismissed because you took action about a health and safety issue.

It's worth pointing out that being dismissed is different to being made redundant. You can be sacked or made redundant even while on furlough.

See Citizens Advice or speak to your trade union representative for more information.

What do employers need to do to keep workers safe?

Employers are required by law to ensure they do whatever possible to keep workers safe from Covid-19 and to minimise the risk of contracting the infection.

Charity Citizens Advice explains that this means reducing how much face-to-face contact you have with the public, as well as ensuring staff can safely social distance while at work.

Michael Newman, partner at law firm Leigh Day, adds that employers should also have conducted a risk assessment, as well as looked at whether to introduce one-way systems, and provide PPE where necessary.

I'm worried about coronavirus, do I have to go into the office?

Employers are legally within their rights to tell you where they'd like you to work.

But if you can work from home, and you've previously been doing this, businesses are expected to allow you to continue working away from your place of employment.

If your boss insists on you coming in, Citizens Advice points out that there may be other options you could take.

For example, if you were furloughed before June 11, 2020, you can ask to be furloughed again but this ends on October 31.

Workers returning from maternity leave, adoption leave, paternity leave, shared parental leave or parental bereavement leave can also be furloughed for the first time.

You might also want to consider using some of your annual leave to take paid time off.

What if I have concerns over using public transport?

One of the current coronavirus conditions employers must consider is letting you travel to work at quieter times of the day.

The idea is that this should mitigate the risk of catching the virus on public transport.

But Mr Newman told us that given the government's guidelines on social distancing and wearing masks on public transport you'd find it very hard to argue you can't go into work due to the risk on trains and buses.

Again, there may be exceptions to this as we explain below.

Do I have to return if I'm shielding, vulnerable or showing symptoms?

Guidance on shielding workers returning to the office changed on August 1.

Under the current rules, the government says shielding workers can return to their workplace as long as it's Covid-secure.

But if they can do 100% of their job at home, then current rules state they should continue to do so if that's possible.

It means extremely clinically vulnerable people will have to weigh up the risks of using public transport if that's the only way they can get to work.

Others who may be considered vulnerable include pregnant people, over 70s, and those who live with someone who is extremely clinical vulnerable.

In this scenario, you may have a case to argue that you can't come back to the office or you can't travel on public transport to the office.

You may be asked to remain working from home instead. Or you may be able to take paid leave.

If your employer won't agree to this and it asks you to leave the company, Mr Newman says you may have grounds to bring either an unfair dismissal or discrimination claim to an employment tribunal.

Citizens Advice points out that if you're pregnant, your employer also has an extra responsibility to make changes to your job so it’s safe for you to keep working.

If it can’t make changes to make sure you’re safe, it could give you a different role to do.

For those showing symptoms of coronavirus you should continue to self-isolate for at least ten days and you shouldn't go to work or even leave your home. See the NHS website for more on what to do.

What if I need to stay at home and look after children or others?

If you look after children or other vulnerable people, you might want to consider whether you can do your job flexibly. For example, you might be able to work:

  • from home
  • at times that suit you, such as evenings or weekends
  • on different tasks than usual
  • fewer hours

Some employers let you buy extra days of annual leave, which you could also consider using.

If you need to look after children and you’ve worked for your employer for at least a year, you can also have unpaid parental leave for each of your children.

You get 18 weeks for each child until they’re 18.

You can choose when to use the leave but you must take a minimum of one week at a time, unless your employer agrees otherwise, and a maximum of four weeks' a year.

Your child’s other parent can also take 18 weeks.

But Citizens Advice points out you also have to tell your employer 21 days before you want to be off work, and you also can’t take parental leave if you’re furloughed.

All workers are also entitled to unpaid time off to deal with unexpected problems or emergencies with a dependant. The time off has to be "reasonable". 

If you can’t work flexibly, don't qualify for parental leave, or need more time off than for an emergency Citizens Advice says the best way to keep your job is to ask for unpaid leave with no fixed end date.

This is called "indefinite unpaid leave".

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