Q&A - I am due to return to work following COVID-19 furlough can I refuse if I feel unsafe?

Q: I am due to go back to work at the end of July. However, so far, I have received no information from my employer to suggest the working arrangements will change from how it was before the coronavirus lockdown. If this is the case, then I will not feel safe as the shared office space puts us too close together for comfort. Can I refuse to go back and ask to carry on working from home if nothing changes?

A: Under normal circumstances you would have to do work in whatever your employer and your contract requires. But these are not normal circumstances and the government has issued very specific guidance to employers for a return to the office post-COVID-19. That guidance requires all businesses to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment and staff groups should be consulted. Your employer must make a copy of the risk assessment available to you.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic employers had a legal duty of care towards their employees, to protect their physical and mental well-being. This includes taking account of the fact that workspaces now carry additional risk. Employers must therefore ensure that the right safeguards and policies are in place before they re-open their workspaces. Similarly, they must ensure that sanitisation measures are in place and that there are sufficient first aiders and fire wardens on site.

In preparation for your return to the office you should ask to see the office risk assessment along with details of how the risks will be mitigated. If you are not happy with anything, make a list of your concerns and ask to discuss it with your line manager. If a compromise cannot be reached to address your concerns and you are worried about losing your job you should seek advice from an employment solicitor.

Article July 2020

This question has been answered by Robert Williams, a Partner with GHP Legal.  If you would like to speak to someone about this or any other legal matter it is still possible and we are doing everything we can to ensure that we continue to offer our high levels of service to our clients.  In accordance with government guidelines, most of our lawyers are currently working remotely which means you may not now receive a response as promptly as you may expect. Please kindly bear with us and we will respond as soon as we are able.

Where possible, we ask that you communicate with us by phone or email. If you have a new enquiry, please use the ‘Contact us’ form on the website or call Oswestry 01691 659194 or Wrexham 01978 291456. As a firm, you will appreciate that we are still extremely busy, and whilst our colleagues are well equipped to work remotely, due to current circumstances work may be interrupted – however cases are still ongoing and will be prioritised by urgency and need. Stay safe and thank you for your support.

Robert Williams

Robert Williams

Partner and Complaints Handler

Partner and Head of the Civil Litigation, Personal Injury and Dispute Resolution team in Wrexham