Employee refusing to return to work after COVID-19


What should I do if an employee refuses to return to work because of COVID-19?

COVID-19 has created a very uncertain and worrying time for most, and there will be many individuals who will be nervous about attending or returning to their usual place of work.


For now, employees who can work from home, should work from home. The only reason employees should be returning to work is if they can’t work from home, for example if your business is in the construction or manufacturing industry.


It’s important to carry out a COVID-19 specific risk assessment of your workplace following the new government guidance [insert link]. You should consider how you can implement social distancing at work, setting up hand-sanitising stations and additional cleaning to prevent the spread of the virus.


Effective Communication

Once you’ve carried out your Coronavirus specific risk assessment, effective communication will play a key role in successful collaboration with your employees. You’ll need to let your employees know what steps you’ve taken to make your workplace safe and that you’ve taken all the reasonable steps to either help people work continue to work from home or socially distance in the workplace.


Take a risk-based approach

If, despite your communications and safety measures, an employee refuses to attend work because they are fearful of the risk to their health, the employer should take a risk-based approach.


Non-high risk category

If the employee is not in a high-risk category and you are comfortable that the safety measures you have in place are consistent with government guidance, you could potentially place them on zero pay and/or consider disciplinary action.


You should carefully consider whether disciplinary action is appropriate on a case by case basis, taking into account:

  • the reasons for refusal to attend work
  • the potential for carrying out their role (or an alternative role) from home
  • the possibility of making use of the furlough scheme
  • whether another type of leave might be appropriate (e.g. family related leave or an unpaid sabbatical)


High-risk category

If your risk assessment determines the risk is too high in relation to a particular employee (for example if they are self-isolating because they have suspected COVID-19 or are ‘clinically vulnerable’) and it is you the employer that requires them to remain at home, then they should be on full pay unless your employee agrees otherwise.



Next steps

If you’re unsure how to manage employees returning to work or need help with a COVID-19 specific risk assessment, Primed gives you everything you need to manage a team and keep them safe.

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