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Covid-19 advice

COVID-19 ADVICE

Working during Covid-19: workers’ rights and employers’ obligations

As the UK is in lockdown, many people are worried about their safety and that of their colleagues, clients or customers. Here we set out some general advice in response to frequently asked questions. Employers should consult, communicate and explain to their staff what measures are in place to keep them safe.  However, if your employer isn’t following government guidance or is putting you at risk, you may have employment rights – including whistleblowing.

What should my employer be doing to keep me safe at work?

Currently, employers should only request that you physically come to the workplace if you cannot reasonably perform your role at home. If working from home is not possible, then your employer should continue to ensure that the workplace is COVID-secure and minimise the health and safety risks to staff.

Your employer should:

  1. Carry out a specific Covid-19 risk assessment to assess any risks
  2. Set up a safe system of work in light of those risks
  3. Implement the system, and
  4. Review the system.

This is a legal requirement for employers with 5 or more employees. You can ask to see the risk assessment, as your employer to explain why they have concluded it is safe to go into the workplace, and negotiate changes. Your employer should consult with trade unions they recognise or health and safety representatives. Employers should take additional steps to protect vulnerable workers.

If you believe that the health and safety of you and/or your colleagues is at risk, you can challenge the employer by raising your concerns as a whistleblowing disclosure to a line manager or with designated contacts in a whistleblowing policy. We have more information about raising health and safety concerns below.

Can I refuse to go to work if I'm fearful for my health?

If you are fearful about going into the workplace, you should ask your employer what measures they have implemented to make the workplace safe and how they are complying with government sector guidance.

If you are an employee, you can refuse to go to work if you reasonably believe that you are in serious and imminent danger by going into the workplace. You have the right not to suffer negative treatment if you refuse to go to work for these reasons, or you take appropriate steps to protect yourself or others (Section 44 Employment Rights Act). It is unlawful for your employer to discipline or dismiss you in this situation (Section 100 Employment Rights Act).

However, the law in this area is complex. The cases are highly fact-sensitive and you should really seek legal advice on how this law applies to you, if at all, before you take any action. Importantly, it is not advisable to simply not turn up for work as you may be in breach of your employment contract.

You can contact ACAS, LawWorks, your local Citizens Advice or your union for more advice on your right to refuse to go to work if you feel your health and safety is at risk.

If you are disabled and/or clinically vulnerable and you face additional risks by going into work as a result, then you might have additional rights under equality law. In addition to the organisations above, you may consider contacting EASS, or a disability charity like Scope for more advice about your rights in this situation.

If you are a parent or a carer for someone who is vulnerable and therefore concerned about going into work, you can contact Working Families for advice.

How can I raise concerns about the health and safety of my colleagues and I?

If you reasonably believe that the employer is endangering the health and safety of you and your colleagues, and potentially the wider public, you can raise your concerns as a whistleblowing disclosure.

We suggest that you do this in writing to a line manager or designated contact in a whistleblowing policy, specifying in detail what your concerns are. You may have the protection of  the UK whistleblowing laws when doing this, depending on the circumstances.

You can also contact our free confidential Advice Line on 020 3117 2520 or send us an email through our contact form if you have any questions or doubts about raising these issues.

What can I do if my employer does not listen to my concerns about health and safety?

Whenever a worker raises concerns about wrongdoing or risk at work, the employer should take them seriously and ensure that the worker will not suffer detriment as a result.

If your employer ignores or denies your concerns, you may be able to escalate it to a more senior manager or approach a regulator, such as the local authority or Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

You can contact our free confidential Advice Line on 020 3117 2520 or send us an email through our contact form if you have any questions or doubts about raising these issues.

I've been furloughed but my employer is still asking me to work

If your employer is asking you to continue working while claiming furlough pay for you from the government, they may be using the furlough scheme fraudulently and therefore in breach of the law. You could raise your concerns about this as a whistleblowing disclosure.

You are not supposed to work while you are on furlough (except for certain types of training). Employers who apply to the furlough scheme but insist that you work during periods where you are supposed to be furloughed could be breaching their duties under the government scheme and claiming furlough pay fraudulently.

Note that if you are on flexible furlough, the rules are slightly different: there may be certain times when you are working (during which your employer should not claim furlough pay for you) and certain times when you are furloughed.

For general questions about how the furlough scheme works (including questions on flexible furlough), you can contact the HMRC advice line. For  guidance on what can and cannot be claimed please see the government guidance for up-to-date information.

If you are concerned that your employer is fraudulently using the furlough scheme, you should continue obtaining legal advice about your rights on furlough and your rights to refuse to do work whilst furloughed. Our advice line can give you advice about possible next steps and raising this as a whistleblowing concern:

  1. You could raise the concern internally with your employer by saying you are happy to work, but that your pay should not be claimed back through the furlough scheme while you are working; or
  2. You can raise your concerns with HMRC’s whistleblowing line who would investigate your employer.

For any of these options, you will want to consider the risks to yourself so we strongly recommend you seek advice before. Please contact our free confidential Advice Line on 020 3117 2520 or send us an email through our contact form if you have any questions about this.

Alternatively, the ACAS website is a useful tool and LawWorks can direct you to free local law centres to help you with this issue.

What is the government guidance for my sector?

The Government has produced guidance for specific sectors to create “Covid-secure” workplaces. You can find this guidance here and check what steps your employer should be taking to keep you safe. As a minimum, your employer must conduct a Covid-19 risk assessment, maintain social distancing, or otherwise manage transmission risks, and clean more frequently.

Some businesses in England must remain closed, you can find them listed here.

I work in the health or care sector and I am concerned about inadequate PPE

You will be able to raise your concerns with your employer whether that’s a line manager, a designated contact in a Speak Up or whistleblowing policy or a Freedom to Speak Up Guardian (FTSUG). To find your NHS employers FTSUG please see the National Guardian’s Office FTSUG Directory.

In Scotland concerns about PPE can be sent to covid-19-health-PPE@gov.scot and in England you can call 0800 915 9964 or email supplydisruptionservice@nhsbsa.nhs.uk.

You can also contact our free confidential Advice Line on 020 3117 2520 or send us an email through our contact form if you have any questions or doubts about raising these issues.

I work in the education sector, what can I do if I feel unsafe?

The Government has issued guidance on implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings. You can ask your employer how they intend to comply with this guidance and keep staff and pupils safe.

The Department of Education has created a ‘Coronavirus Helpline’ for queries about Covid-19, please call 0800 046 8687 (Monday-Friday from 8am-6pm) or click here.

Covid-19 and the Employment Tribunals

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic Employment Tribunals across England, Wales and Scotland, and Industrial Tribunals in Northern Ireland have been heavily disrupted. For the up-to-date information on how Covid-19 is affecting tribunals in your area follow the links below:

Employment Tribunals in England and Wales click here

Employment Tribunals in Scotland click here

The Industrial Tribunal in Northern Ireland click here

What if I live in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland?

The law and guidance in WalesScotland and Northern Ireland is different. You should check the guidance for these countries by clicking on the country you need.

Contacting Protect

Please contact our free confidential Advice Line on 020 3117 2520 or send us an email through our contact form if you have any questions or doubts about any of the above.