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As the pandemic continues to affect every part of our daily lives, the government guidance has remained clear: stay safe and stay at home.

At the beginning, employers were asked to ask themselves whether their work and their employees fell into the category of ‘essential’. It was advised that anyone with the ability to work from home should do this as soon as possible.

For those that could not work from home, the option was given to furlough their employees with Government support. However, the furlough support has not helped all individuals that may have lost their job due to the cut-off date.

Unfortunately, not all employers have adhered to the guidance. It was widely reported that Sports Direct initially where going to continue to ask their employees to work as they considered themselves, ‘essential.’ This was despite a list being issued by the Government, which can be found at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/876905/300320_Revised_Guidance.pdf

After receiving nationwide backlash, the Sports Direct shops were closed. However, even yesterday there were reports that their remains serious concerns over the social distancing measures within the warehouses. It is clear that not all employers are placing the needs of their employees, over the needs of the business.

With the amount of news reports, it can be difficult to know what you can and cannot do. For employees, it becomes important to know what category you fall under and if, you are still working whether or not your work is ‘essential.’

What is an ‘essential’ employer?

To define it very simply, an essential employer is one that the country could not continue without. This included supermarkets, hotels and veterinary surgeries. There were exceptions made to this to include those that could safely implement social distancing and those that worked alone.

If a company could not allow for its employees to work from home and could not implement safe social distancing, then there were asked to close.   

The guidance was clear that it should be the employers that are the ones to make the decision in the interest of their employees. This was to avoid employees being put in a position where they had to make decision between their income and their safety.

Who is a key worker?

The other very notable exception to those that have had to continue to work are our ‘key workers.’ As their work is vital to everyday life, the Government was keen to ensure that they are able to carry out their jobs with as little restrictions as possible

The key workers includes, but is not limited to: Health & Social Care; Education; supermarkets and food supply chains; emergency services; utility workers and transport.

If you do not fall into either category but are being asked to work, what should you do?

There has been public concern that the guidance that has been issued by the Government was not clear. The term essential worker was not fully defined. This has led to many non-essential employees still being asked to work and many will, in fear of the lack of income.

If you do not fall into those categories and you are still being asked to work, the Government have provided a checklist to go through:

1.    If you can work from home, you must do so;

2.    If that is not possible, you can go to work but only if you are able to adhere to social distancing guidelines;

3.    If not, the business should consider ceasing to trade.

If you are concerned, then the first step is to raise your concerns directly with your employer.

ACAS have recently issued additional guidance for those that are still working whether that be from home or by going into the workplace. This has outlined the good practice steps for employers and ensuring protection is given to the vulnerable or at high risk.

If you are member of a Trade Union, use the opportunity to voice any concerns that you may be having at this time.

At Thompsons, we have been fortunate to have had the ability to work from home as soon as the recommendations were put in to place. However, not all employees have been this fortunate.

If you are ever in doubt, do not hesitate to ask the question and seek legal advice. During this time of uncertainty, our specialist employment team are offering free legal advice by contacting us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Further information can be found by clicking the links below:

Who we are – The Team page

COVID-19 – What do I do if I’ve already been made redundant?

COVID -19 – What protections do I have if refuse to attend work?

80% Wage Guarantee: What do we know? What do we not know

COVID-19 Pandemic – Your Employment Rights

Covid 19 - Tips for Protecting your Mental Health whilst Working from Home

Blog by Emma Wheelhouse

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