COVID-19 and your job: Health & Safety
In the first post of our themed week, employment lawyer Nick Hanning looks at whether you should be attending work at all and what to do if you are concerned about your safety.
I don’t consider my job to be essential or I believe I can do it from home but my employer says I have to come to work. What can I do?
The starting point is that failing to attend work or to obey a reasonable request from your employer is a breach of contract. You could be disciplined or dismissed of you refuse to go to work.
However, that may be simplistic. An employer does not have to permit work to be done from home but should be aware of government advice and would be expected to do as much as it could to comply with that.
In addition, employers have a duty to protect its employees from harm and so will be expected to take proper measures even if insisting all or some people have to come into work
What measures should be taken?
First and foremost, an employer should undertake a risk assessment. This should comprise a comprehensive analysis of the risks faced by any employee coming to work and consider what steps can be taken to mitigate or avoid those risks.
So, this will cover issues such as hygiene (so handwash should be readily available), social distancing (which applies to colleagues as well as customers so, for example, desks may have to be moved) and protective equipment (e.g. are gowns or masks needed?).
The result of this should be shared with you so ask about and of course be ready to add your own input if you have concerns.
I don’t believe my place of work is safe. Do I still have to go in?
An employer should implement any measures identified by the risk assessment and ensure there are adequate supplies of cleaning material and protective equipment where this is needed. Provided this is done, it is unlikely you will have cause to complain.
If you do have concerns, the first thing to do is to discuss these with your employer. Ideally, secure support from your colleagues because concerns raised by a large group of people are likely to be considered more seriously than a single complaint.
If changes are not made and you are still concerned then your own safety is paramount especially as if you are infected you pose a risk to many others too.
Although you have no specific right to refuse to work, there is statutory protection against you being dismissed for a health and safety reason. Section 100(1)(d) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 provides that it will be an automatically unfair dismissal if you are dismissed because you leave or refuse to attend work where you consider yourself to be in imminent and serious danger. If there is a real risk of exposure to the virus then this would undoubtedly class as an imminent and serious danger.
However, this is no panacea. There may be debate about whether there was a real risk and in any case you are risking the dismissal (and the cost of bringing a claim) by refusing to work. Better then to aim to discuss your concerns and to refuse to attend only as a last resort.
For more information please contact Nick Hanning – firstname.lastname@example.org
*Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*