Returning to work: Citizens Advice outlines the top six need-to-knows
With government guidance now stating that, for some sectors, those who cannot work from home should return to work, Citizens Advice has outlined the top six need-to-knows when it comes to your employment rights.
The charity’s webpage Coronavirus - if you’re worried about working offers further information and advice to people who have been instructed to return to work by their employer.
I’ve been on furlough but my employer has told me to come back to work. Do I have to go?
Under any contract of employment you have to comply with reasonable management requests. But returning to work might not be ‘reasonable’ if you’re being asked to return to work in an environment where your health and safety is at risk.
The government has published sector-specific guidance about what employers should do to minimise the chances of catching coronavirus at work. If your employer isn’t complying with this guidance or is putting your health and safety at risk in any other way, you need to talk to them about this.
Ultimately, if your concerns aren’t resolved, you could report your employer to the Health and Safety Executive, but ideally you and your employer can solve the issues together.
What if the workplace is safe, but the only way I can get there is on crowded public transport?
Your employer has a legal duty under the law, and under your contract, to ensure that your workplace does not pose a risk to your health and safety.
Your employer’s duty is limited to things that are under its control, and so there is no clear legal position about whether it has to take into account the risks you face when travelling to and from work, as part of its health and safety assessment.
During this pandemic, however, a risk assessment should consider how vulnerable people at higher risk of coronavirus, such as those who are pregnant or over 70, will get to work as public health guidance warns that they must stay at home as much as possible and minimise contact with people outside of their household.
Even if you’re not classed as vulnerable, your employer should listen to your concerns if you’re worried about having to use public transport after being called back into work. You could, for example, ask to travel at quieter times of the day.
I’ve been called back to work, but my childrens’ school isn’t reopening. What are my rights?
If you’re struggling to juggle childcare and work you have a number of options.
Firstly, the government has said that if you’re unable to work due to childcare responsibilities, your employer can continue to furlough you using the Job Retention Scheme.
If your employer will not keep you on furlough, you can ask to work more flexibly, such as at different times or for fewer hours.
Alternatively, you could ask for ‘indefinite unpaid leave’ until you are able to work again.
If your employer says no to the options above, it would be worth asking for help from your nearest Citizens Advice as you may have other rights, such as parental leave.
I’m in the shielded group, do I have to go back to work if my employer asks?
If you’re in the ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ group, also known as the shielded group, the public health advice remains that you should stay at home and avoid face-to-face contact.
Employers are allowed to furlough people for any reason arising from the coronavirus pandemic, including to protect employees' health.
If you’re unable to work from home, ideally, your employer will furlough you for as long as public health advice deems it necessary. If not, you may have rights under the Equality Act 2010. This would help protect you from discrimination.
If you’re in the shielded group and have been denied furlough, you can contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help.
I’m pregnant and worried about returning to work, what can I do?
If you’re pregnant, public health advice says you should minimise contact with other people outside of your household.
Employers are allowed to furlough people for any reason arising from the coronavirus pandemic, so this could include protecting pregnant workers.
There are also pre-existing, pre-coronavirus protections for pregnant women where the workplace poses a risk. This could mean being offered suitable alternative work, or suspension on full pay if no alternative risk-free work is available.
My employer has asked me to return to work on part-time hours rather than full time, can they do this?
The Chancellor has said the Job Retention Scheme will allow furloughed workers to return part time from August. Further details about how this will work as expected within weeks.
Until then it’s not clear what the rules are if you are asked to go back to work on reduced hours.
You could try to negotiate a satisfactory solution with your employer, such as fewer employees returning to ensure they can have full-time hours, or you could ask to remain on furlough until the details are clearer.
You may also need to ask to remain on furlough in order to follow public health advice, for example if you’re shielding, or if you need to stay at home to look after children.
Matthew Bradbury, Employment Expert at Citizens Advice, said:
“Many people will understandably have questions about how they can safely get back to work. It is important to talk through any concerns with your employer as soon as possible so that you can reach a solution that works for both of you, and allows you to feel safe when returning to work.
“For more information visit the Citizens Advice website, and if you need one-to-one help contact your nearest Citizens Advice. ”
Notes to editors
Citizens Advice is made up of the national charity Citizens Advice; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.
Our network of charities offers impartial advice online and over the phone, for free.
We helped 2.7 million people face to face, over the phone, by email and webchat in 2018-19. And we had 29 million visits to our website. For full service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.
You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133 or 0808 223 1144 for Welsh language speakers.