Do I Have To Go Back To Work? A Quick Guide To Your Rights

August 28, 2020

Following the easing of the coronavirus lockdown measures, those who cannot work from home are now being “actively encouraged” to return to their jobs.

Many workers may be regarding this news with a sense of trepidation. Is it actually safe to do so?

Can I refuse to return to work if I feel unsafe?

If you have coronavirus symptoms then you should self-isolate at home. 

However, If you don’t fit into this category, you are still protected by official legislation that allows workers to remove themselves from a dangerous workplace without recrimination or repercussion.

Black employees are particularly being urged to take note of this: 

Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 states: “An employee has the right not to be subjected to any detriment by any act, or any deliberate failure to act, by his employer.” 

The relevant sub-sections of section 44 are:

(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.

The absence of specific advice here continues to cloud the matter – though actively enforced social distancing, disinfectants for shared equipment, hand sanitisers and the provision of PPE will certainly be among the conditions required for workplaces to safely reopen.

Has your company done a risk assessment?

You have a right to ask if they have. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, “every employer shall provide his employees with comprehensible and relevant information on the risks to their health and safety identified by the assessment” and “the preventive and protective measures”. 

The same legislation spells out that employers must make suitable assessments of the risks. 

Richard Jones, of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, said: “Health and safety must come first. People shouldn’t re-enter workplaces until employers are certain that they’re properly managing the risk of infection and providing the support that workers need.

“Prevention has to be the focus because, if organisations don’t get this right, workplaces can become places of transmission.”

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