Published On: Mon, Jul 6th, 2020

Employment: Rights for Britons returning to work post-lockdown  | Personal Finance | Finance

Employees in their millions have been forced to work from home after the government announced a UK-wide lockdown. Under government rules, people were advised to work from home wherever possible, and only take essential journeys. As the lockdown measures are eased, and places of work begin to open up, many Britons will find themselves returning to their usual working circumstances.

However, it is understandable that many people still have concerns about returning to offices and other places of work as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to circle.

While returning to work post-lockdown may be a daunting experience, there are employment rights people should bear in mind. spoke to David Browne, Employment Law Partner at Shakespeare Martineau who provided more insight.

Mr Browne shed light on the steps employers must take before allowing their employees to return to a working environment, and the rights workers have when coming back.

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He said: “Fundamentally, where there is a serious risk of danger in the workplace which cannot be avoided, employees are entitled to refrain from attending work without suffering repercussions.

“If someone raises health and safety issues, stating they will not be coming into working for those reasons, then if an employer subjects them to a detriment, or dismisses them because of those points, that can give rise to claims. Such dismissals will be automatically unfair.

“However, employers are likely to be able to resist such claims if they are following all current health advice; putting into place various measures to make the workplace safer; and may have explored the option of continuing the individuals to work from home.

“If there is clear evidence this has been followed, then I suspect that tribunals will be sympathetic to employers who, for example, withhold pay for those not willing to attend the workplace.”

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But while the working environment a person is immersed in is important, travelling to work is also essential for many people.

Millions of Britons have to use public transportation to get to and from work every day, and the risks involved are clearly less easy for an employer to mitigate.

Mr Browne elaborated on the rights employees have if they do have to use a method of public transportation to get to work.

He said: “For those who have to travel to work, if there is an imminent risk of danger which can’t be avoided, they may be able to refrain from attending under the law.

“The wording of current legislation is probably broad enough to cover the commute. But are employers trying to mitigate the risk? Can the employee try to avert these risks?

“Employers should look to stagger start times, allow workers to come in during off-peak times, or provide personal protective equipment – PPE – to employees to assist their travel.

“A big take away point is to follow the government guidance as much as possible. Ultimately, if ti is necessary to come back to work, employees should make sure their business is protecting them as much as possible.”

Mr Browne also highlighted that there were legal obligations to make any working environment safe that employees should look out for, even when working from home.

These include working in a safe environment, having the correct working equipment at one’s disposal, and ensuring staff take regular breaks. 

While there are no specific rules for parents who are returning to work without childcare at present, employers should be flexible with working arrangements as much as possible.

Employers and employees alike are encouraged to consult ACAS guidance for further help in these more individual circumstances.

Government guidelines currently state all Britons should work from home as much as possible.

This can be regularly checked via the government’s website, which provides the most up-to-date advice.  

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