Can employees legally refuse to return to the workplace in Milton Keynes? Here's what the experts say

Data suggests a vast majority of people like the flexibility of working from home

Friday, 13th August 2021, 12:48 pm
Updated Friday, 13th August 2021, 12:50 pm

Offices in Milton Keynes remain much quieter, despite lockdown restrictions lifting on July 19.

On the same date that most remaining Covid-related restrictions were lifted in England, the government also ended its stay at home message.

Yet, whether due to the continued threat of the coronavirus, or the additional comfort of working in a home office, many employees might be reluctant to go back to the workplace permanently.

Offices remain quiet despite lifting of restrictions

A poll from YouGov shows 80% of workers want some ability to carry on working from home, and four out of 10 would consider quitting if forced to return to the office full-time.

Employment Law experts Ellis Whittam said: "Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act is a pivotal piece of legislation. In effect, it protects the employee against penalty or detriment in the event of them acting on the belief that the workplace presented a serious and imminent danger to them.

"It should however be noted that the grounds for the protection are rather specific. The law will apply if:

"The employee genuinely believes that they are in serious and imminent danger; and

"The belief, whether demonstrably correct or not, is considered to be “reasonable”.

"If all these elements are met, then taking any action against the employee, whether that be not paying them or dismissing them, could fall foul of the protection. Furthermore, if an employee was successful in bringing such a claim, damages can be awarded for loss of earnings and injury to feelings."

This piece of employment law could become relevant if an employee disagreed with a company's decision to make face-coverings optional.

To avoid this potential situation Ellis Whittam has provided the following step-by-step guide employers can follow:

-Ensure an up-to-date risk assessment is in place, with particular attention being paid to employees with medical conditions or other risk characteristics.

-Share with all employees the details of the risk assessment, what steps you have taken, and what steps are still to be taken in the future.

-If an employee raises a concern, obtain as much information on it as possible. Approach this sensitively, and avoid reprimanding the employee for coming forward.

-Try to answer the concerns with objective evidence to support your assertion that the workplace is safe for the employee. If any further measures can be taken, implement them.

-If the employee is still asserting that the workplace isn’t safe for them, establish why, despite sharing information with them, they still hold that view. Try to reassure them that the dangers they have highlighted are not actually present.

-If the employee’s stance is firm, consider your options – you could, for instance, say that any period will be unpaid, or that they may be disciplined for unauthorised absence. This should be a last resort and advice should always be taken first to avoid any potential legal breaches.