Please note: The information contained in this blog is correct as of 25/03/2020. As the COVID-19 situation continues to develop, so will the government guidance. While we will do our best to update these blogs where needed, we would always advise you speak with a solicitor for specific advice.

With the government imposing further restrictions on people’s life in the UK, many employees are questioning whether they should or could be made to go to work during the crisis.

The current government requirements are that people must stay at home unless they need to leave for one of four allowed reasons. This includes travelling to work where it is not possible to work from home.

Some workplaces have closed and many employees are working from home where that is possible. However, some employees are being told it is business as usual and that they must continue attending their usual place of work.

Here are some common questions:

  1. Can I refuse to attend work?

In usual circumstances, a refusal to attend work could amount to gross misconduct, either because it would be an unauthorised absence or failure to follow a reasonable instruction. If you are not an employee that is currently required to self-isolate due to showing symptoms, having family members showing symptoms, or having a condition which the government has advised that you isolate, you could be required to work.

If you do not fall under one of the categories for self-isolation, you should raise your concerns with your employer and seek to agree either a period of paid or unpaid leave. If you have an underlying health condition it may no longer be a reasonable instruction to require you to attend work and you may also have grounds for a disability discrimination claim.

  1. I should be self-isolating but my employer insists I attend work

If your employer is insisting you work this could be a breach of their duty of care to you and this would also be a breach of contract which could give you the right to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal.

You should explain this to your employer and take advice if they continue to insist you attend work.

  1. I’m pregnant, how does this affect my rights?

Your employer has a duty of care to you, as with all employees, and additionally your employer must carry out a health and safety assessment to assess any workplace risks.

Where there is a risk to you, your hours of work or working conditions must be altered so that you are no longer at risk. If that is not possible you must be offered alternative employment. Finally, if there is no other option your employer can suspend you on full pay.

Government advice is that pregnant women should be particularly stringent in social distancing measures and as such if you are not able to work from home your employer should consider suspending you on full pay. You should take advice if your employer is not considering your health and safety correctly.

  1. Do my general employment rights still apply?

Yes, you still have the right not to be unfairly dismissed or discriminated against, as normal. Any employer trying to avoid their usual HR practices and procedures could find themselves with claims from employees.

If you believe your employer is not treating you fairly or reasonably during this situation you have the right to raise a grievance and, where the actions of the employer amount to a breach of health and safety you may want to consider making a whistleblowing disclosure.

If you have any other questions about being forced to work during the COVID-19 outbreak, get in touch with Farleys’ employment solicitors on 0845 287 0939 or send your enquiry by email.