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BLOG: Can my employer make me go back to work if I don’t feel safe?

Kelly Faulkner

Since the Prime Minister’s announcement that workers who can’t work from home should be actively encouraged to return to work, we’ve received lots of enquiries from people who are worried about their safety going back into the workplace.

The government has published guidance to help employers across eight different sectors to create what it calls ‘COVID secure workplaces’, which are specific to different types of work environments such as construction sites and offices.

The guidance says that employers will need to firstly carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, and implement a safe system of work around this, which could include ensuring compliance with social distancing or providing the correct PPE.

If you are concerned that your employer isn’t following safety guidance and you are not being adequately protected from the risk of infection, it’s important that you understand what your rights are and what you can do.

Your rights

As an employee you have the right to safety at work and also not to be treated unfavourably because you have raised health and safety concerns or took steps to protect yourself or others.

If you have a reasonable belief that while you’re in work or travelling to work you face a real risk of serious and imminent danger which you can’t be reasonably expected to avoid, you can choose not to take that risk and have the right not to be disadvantaged or dismissed because of that choice.

If you are this would give rise to a potential claim.

But these types of claims are heavily fact specific and because COVID represents a new risk, it isn’t clear at the moment whether a tribunal would consider putting someone at risk of infection as serious and imminent danger.

If you think that your workplace is unsafe or if you’re concerned because you or someone in your household is clinically vulnerable, it’s important that you raise your concerns in writing immediately through a formal grievance.

If possible we strongly advise that you seek support from your health and safety representative, trade union officer or a professional adviser on the particular circumstances in your case.

Click here to be linked to the guidance of what types of things your employer should be doing to make work safe for you.

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