Working from home
The government guidelines are clear: your employer should take all reasonable steps to allow you to work from home.
You should only be asked to return to work if it is not possible to work from home. If your employer is demanding you return to work when it is possible to work from home, write to them making it clear that they are breaking government guidelines.
If you are working from home your employer still has a duty of care. They should protect your mental and physical wellbeing, including providing you with all the equipment and information you need to work from home safely.
Returning to work
Your employer must carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment before you return to work. In the risk assessment, they should set out in detail what measures they will be putting in place to protect you from COVID-19. The risk assessment should be made available to you, demand a copy if necessary.
The risk assessment should be specific to your workplace and/or job. It should cover all the daily tasks carried out at your workplace and what measures your employer is putting in place to protect you from COVID-19.
For example, in order to ensure social distancing, your employer should re-design workspaces so that people can remain at least 2 meters apart from each other, zone different areas for different staff, use mobile phones or walkie talkies to communicate, stagger start, finish and break times, create one-way walk-troughs and staircases, open more entrances and exits, to name a few alterations.
Once you have a copy of your risk assessment you should examine it closely and discuss it with the people you work with. If you think that the measures outlined in the risk assessment do not do enough to protect you, make it clear to your boss. The best way to do this is by getting together with your workmates and demanding increased protection.
You should also ensure that your boss is implementing the measures outlined in the risk assessment and allowing you enough time to do your job. Employers often introduce safety measures that make it harder to carry out tasks but still expect you to do your job in the allotted time. This often results in workers ignoring safety measures in order to get the job done on time. Don’t let this happen to you. Discuss it with your workmates and demand more time to do your job safely.
What to do if you return to work and you do not think it is safe
If you do not think that your place of work is safe, discuss it with your workmates and then make it clear to your boss that you need increased protection. If your employer refuses to make changes, you have the right, under Section 44 of the 1996 Employment Rights Act, to refuse to work or carry out a specific task that you consider dangerous.
If your employer is not complying with government guidelines, for example by not putting in measures to ensure social distancing, you should be covered by the act. Though the act only refers to “employees’ ‘ it may be the case that some people classed as “workers” will also be covered. Before refusing to work, it is best that you write to your employer making it clear that you feel they are breaking government guidelines with as many people as possible signing the letter.
Rather than walking out, it might be best to withdraw to a place of safety within the workplace or outside, for example in the car park. In doing so you should make sure you maintain social distancing at all times.
Taking action against your employer is never easy but in many ways, there has never been a better time to get organised and fight back. Public awareness of the dangers of COVID-19 is high and employers are running scared of any bad publicity in regards to not protecting workers from the threat of COVID-19.
Remember you are not alone you can contact SolFed for support and advice.