At the outset of the coronavirus outbreak, the advice from government, was clear – if you were able to work from home, you should be allowed to do so. However, there are many essential workers who were unable to work from home, including health and social care workers, travel sector workers, delivery drivers and retail employees.
If you're still working what should your employer be doing?
Your employer has a duty of care to keep you safe at work. The specific public health guidance issued to employers in respect of the COVID-19 pandemic states that employers must:
- ensure there are appropriate facilities for employees to clean their hands (with soap and water for more than 20 seconds or hand sanitiser gel) more frequently than normal.
- provide facilities to ensure frequent cleansing and disinfecting of objects and surfaces that are touched regularly.
- provide the necessary work arrangements to enable compliance with social distancing.
As well as the specific public health guidance, your employers also have duties under health and safety legislation including the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
Read more about this subject on our dedicated page: How to stay safe at work
Furlough and Redundancy
As large parts of the country, indeed the world, went into lockdown, revenue and business dried up almost overnight for many companies and otherwise solvent businesses in the travel, leisure and hospitality industries were forced to shut down in order to abide by the government lockdown measures.
For many employers there were some difficult decisions to be made and despite the government's various financial assistance packages, not every worker was able to remain in employment. Some businesses took advantage of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and 'furloughed' employees, but some took the decision to begin the redundancy process. Even now, many workers feel they are in a very precarious position in respect of their job safety.
Sadly, not all employers will have handled the situation fairly and in accordance with the law and many workers are now wondering if what happened to them was lawful.
Pay cuts and settlement agreements
At such a disconcerting time, it's easy to feel pressured into making changes to your pay and working conditions. But, you don't have to agree to everything your employer suggests without fully understanding the ramifications and whether your rights are being infringed.
If your employer has either asked you to take a pay cut or forced one upon you, it is important that you know your rights in this area. You don't have to take a pay cut, but many workers understand the current problems for businesses and are prepared to work on a reduced salary to help themselves, and the company, stay afloat. However, any pay cut should only be for a limited time and the terms should be documented.
If your employer offers you a settlement agreement you should speak to an employment solicitor as soon as you can so that you can make sure you get the best deal.
If you are concerned about your situation, Talk to Thompsons today and we can help you ensure your employment rights are being upheld.
Refusing to attend work
Some workers, especially those with vulnerable members of the household or those who may feel they need to shield themselves because of underlying health issues such as diabetes or cancer treatments, may not feel safe going out to a workplace. At the outset of the pandemic, lots of misinformation quickly circulated about employee rights and refusal to work and how the law might protect workers who did not feel safe going to work.
Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1196 provides that an employee has the right not to be subject to detriment where he or she acts in circumstances of danger which is reasonably believed to be serious and imminent. If the employee has a genuine and reasonable belief that they cannot avert the danger, he or she is entitled to remove themselves from harm's way. However, s44 does not guarantee legal protection if an employee removes themselves from the workplace due to fears of COVID-19. The wording of the legislation is extremely precise and it is worth noting that when this provision was drawn up, Parliament did not have a pandemic like COVID-19 in mind.
Similarly, section 100 of the same Act states that an employee will be considered unfairly dismissed if he or she is fired for leaving the workplace in circumstances of danger which were reasonably believed to be serious and imminent and where the employee reasonably believed the danger could not be avoided.
S100 does not give an employee absolute rights to withdraw their labour if they feel the workplace is unsafe. Again the wording is for more precise than this and there is no guarantee that an Employment Tribunal would consider s100 applicable if an employee was dismissed for refusing to work due to fear over COVID-19.
If you are concerned about going to work or that your employer has not made your workplace safe, Talk to Thompsons today.
Protecting home workers
Your employer has the same health and safety responsibility to keep you safe if you are working at home as they do when you are in a designated workplace.
Employers must consider:
- how they will keep in touch with remote workers
- what work activity an employee will be doing and how long for
- can the work activity be carried out safely at the employee's home
- do control measures need to be put in place to protect them
Control measures for many home workers might be in ensuring they have the right equipment such as a suitable workstation set-up for using display screen equipment (DSE).
It is also important for employers to consider how to adequately support home workers with reduced contact to managers and colleagues.
Your employment law rights during the COVID-19 pandemic
The information above is a very brief overview of the current situation. If you are in any way unsure of your employment law rights during the coronavirus crisis, please Talk to Thompsons, so we can help you make sure your employment and working conditions are not compromised unfairly.
Call 0800 0891 331 or fill in our online claim form so we can call you back to discuss your circumstances.