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Coronavirus: Your Rights if Your Employer Tells You to Return to Work

Coronavirus: Your Rights if Your Employer Tells You to Return to Work
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Rights of Workers


In England alone, workers who are unable to work from home have been instructed to go back to work as part of the Government’s plan to get the economy working again, and schools have been instructed to re-open. [see Our plan to Rebuild:The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy]

As of 20th May, 12 English councils have refused to open schools and many parents have said that they will not take their kids back to school. These instructions do not apply to vulnerable workers who must be “shielded” and includes those who are;

– 70 years or older (regardless of medical conditions)

– Under 70 years with an underlying health condition such as those listed below

– Anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds

– Chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis

– Chronic heart disease, such as heart failure

– Chronic kidney disease

– Chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis

– Chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy

– Diabetes

– Problems with your spleen – e.g. sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed

– A weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and Aids, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy

– Being seriously overweight (a BMI of 40 or above)

– Those who are pregnant

If you fall in these categories and are asked to return to work, write to your employer and inform them that you are in the vulnerable category of workers who have to observe stringent quarantine rules. If they still insist raise a grievance and contact ACAS.

If You Are Not a Vulnerable Worker

Your employer has a duty of care under the common law and the Health and safety at Work etc. Act 1974. [see Working Safely during Coronavirus]

If your employer does not put safety measures in place for you it would be a breach of their duty of care and a breach of health and safety law.

[ see How to complain about health and safety at work,  Automatically Unfair Dismissal – Health and SafetyHow to fight a Health and Safety dismissalLaw, guidance and standards on health and safety at work]

Before you go back, write to your employer asking whether a health and safety risk assessment has been conducted, the outcome of that risk assessment and what measures have been put in place to protect you from contracting coronavirus. Check that you will be provided with PPE. If you are not comfortable with the measures, do the following:

Make an application for flexible working so you can work from home – How to make an application for flexible working arrangements

Raise a grievance – How to raise a grievance at work,

Contact ACAS – Early Conciliation Flowchart

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

There is no equivalent instruction in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland who have issued their own instructions.

Northern Ireland – Coronavirus Recovery Plan

Scotland – Coronavirus Exit Strategy

Wales – Lockdown Exit Strategy

The following advice applies only to Wales, where schools have not been instructed to re-open and workers have not been asked to return. Employers who ask workers to return to work or not get paid MUST be put straight. The first thing to do is to raise a grievance as follows:

– Refer to the current Wales specific instruction on education provision which can be found here –

– Refer to the instructions on Coronavirus: closure of businesses and premises available here –

– State that because of the current Welsh Government lawshealth and safety concerns and the closure of schools, it is impossible to return to work.

– State that you are more than happy to return to work when the Government has issued the instruction, opened schools and loosened quarantine restrictions. Additionally, as a non-key worker you would be breaking the law.

Employers have the option of making employees redundant, even then the pool for selection must not be discriminatory or unfair. [see Redundancy, Redundancy Law, Redundancy Pay, Redundancy and benefits]

Non-payment of a worker would give rise to a claim for unauthorised deduction from wages, unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal/breach of contract, automatically unfair dismissal for health and safety reasons.

[ see Unauthorised deductions from your wages,  How to write a grievance about unauthorised deductions from your wages or salaryBreach of contract , Employment Tribunal claim template for Breach of Contract,Unfair Dismissal,  Unfair Dismissal Claim Template with Guidance Automatically Unfair reasons for Dismissal , ACAS Code of Practice 1 on Discipline and Grievance Procedures ]

Last Updated: [11/09/2021]