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How should employers bring their employees out of home working and back into the workplace post-lockdown? In July the UK Prime Minister talked about a ‘significant return to normality’ and coming out of lockdown by Christmas. He talked about companies having more discretion to bring staff back to workplaces. This is in contrast to the guidance issued in March to ‘work from home if you can’.

Can employers fully resume their business?

This is a complex question. Covid-19 still presents a risk and all employers are required to comply with government guidance on Covid security. For many employers, demand for goods and services has changed, and ways of working will have to change. Restructuring or even redundancies may be unavoidable.  All employers are required to carry out a risk assessment regarding their Covid security in relation to the guidance and take appropriate action.

Can an employee refuse to return to work?

The key employment legislation in this area is Section 44(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996.  This covers all employees who, for health and safety reasons cannot be put to a detriment:

(d) in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent and which he could not reasonably have been expected to avert, he left (or proposed to leave) or (while the danger persisted) refused to return to his place of work or any dangerous part of his place of work, or
(e) in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent, he took (or proposed to take) appropriate steps to protect himself or other persons from the danger.”

An employee has the right to protect themselves from harm and various agencies such as the HSE could be contacted to report concerns.

Employees at ‘high risk’

2.2 million people in England were classified as at high-risk from the virus and advised to shield themselves at home. Shielding ended on 31st July meaning such employees could return to work.  But employers are required to be “especially careful” with them and of course Covid-security is essential.

Employees with children at home (childcare options remain very limited)

The UK Prime Minister said that if workers cannot get childcare, employers should not expect them to return. Although the school terms end in July other holiday clubs and activities which would usually run have scarce availability. The PM’s statement does not constitute legal protection but he did say that parents and guardians unable to return ‘must be defended and protected’ on that basis. Discussions between the employer and employee to find a workable solution would be a good option in this case.

Changes to working practices and contracts

A ‘new normal’ is emerging, the effects of the pandemic on businesses and consumer behaviour are not yet fully known, but they are far reaching. Restructuring of organisations is inevitable in order to maintain the skills developed in the workforce. It may be that this requires changes to employment contracts and possible redundancies.

 

Contact Us for detailed advice on these issues. We can help you manage these issues considerately and effectively as an employer.  Or as the employee we can also help you to get the best possible outcome.

As I write this, in August 2020, the world is working out how to operate as it emerges from full lockdown to a socially distanced world. The need for ‘local lockdowns’ will continue to be a reality for some time, and the impact of these on employers and employees need to be considered in all business planning and restructuring as we all work towards a healthy prosperous future. Middleton Law Ltd is a small, friendly and approachable law firm. Both myself and Debbie work to untangle employment law issues to help employers and employees. If we can help with any issues call or email us today.

 

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