Employees reluctant to return to work during the virus outbreak and after Furlough

Posted 05/05/2020 : By: Nicki Sudds

While we at Ashtons HR Consulting are all working from home, some businesses are continuing and require their employees to go into the workplace.

We have had a few enquiries regarding employees who are reluctant or refusing to return to work, either following a period of sickness or Furlough, during the current Coronavirus outbreak because they are worried about their safety and that of their families.

Normally if an employee refuses to come to work, it would be dealt with formally by way of a disciplinary of which a potential outcome could result in dismissal. However, during the Coronavirus pandemic this could be detrimental to the employer as the employee could then raise a whistle-blowing claim against them, which could cost the employer both in monetary terms as well as their reputation.  

Remember, the government guidance is that everyone should work from home and only go into the workplace if their job absolutely cannot be done from home.

But how do you deal with this in the current situation we find ourselves in?

Be flexible with the employee as we are in a difficult situation right now.  Talk to them to find out what their reasons are for the reluctance to come back to work.  

If your reluctant employee is unable to work from home, you should do all you can to adapt the workplace to make it as safe as possible.

When employees return to work, best practice approach would be to do a risk assessment.  Discuss with the employee what measures you already have put in place and ask if they think anything further should be provided to make them feel comfortable about coming to work.

As an employer, you have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of all employees.  The advice given by ACAS says the employer should listen to what the employee’s concerns are and should take steps to protect everyone.  

Measures to take for your employees:

  • enforce the 2-metre social distancing rule, put tape on the floor in well-used areas, for instance around a reception area. Space out desks accordingly
  • ensure they have relevant protective clothing
  • make sure there are hand washing facilities and that employees are encourages to regularly wash their hands
  • stagger shifts to limit contact with others
  • stagger lunch breaks so people are not congregating in the lunch area
  • ensure people are not making cups of tea for their team like they would have done previously
  • encourage people to challenge behaviour that doesn’t comply with social distancing
  • regularly remind staff of their obligations as things can quickly become relaxed.

If the employee is suffering with anxiety about coming into work, it is important to address this, you can help by:

  • signposting them to one of the mental health organisations
  • if you have an employee assistance programme put them in touch with the provider
  • you should consider making reasonable adjustments to help the employee settle back into work
  • regular contact between employee and employer 
  • don’t expect too much from them at first – we are not living in the same world as we were prior to the pandemic.

If the employee still does not want to return to work, depending on their personal situation you could ask them to take holiday or a period of unpaid leave – this does need to be agreed by both parties and looked at on a case by case position.

Further information 

If you have employees that are reluctant to return to work and you need guidance on this subject, please contact us through this website or by calling 0330 222 0989 as we can provide you with practical guidance to help you through this unusual time.

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