As you will be aware, no doubt, for those people at high risk from Covid-19, the government’s policy of shielding has come to an end in the UK, and there are now lots of news stories circulating about employees who were previously in this position now reporting feelings of anxiety. The BBC has been reporting on individuals saying how they are very anxious about getting back to work and worried that they may have to choose between "a job and their health". As Personnel Today reports, it comes at a times when the Government is stepping up its ‘back to work’ campaign which only serves to make those feelings of anxiety even worse.
The issue of managing the return to work of UK employees who were previously shielding is one which is directly impacting on employers now and it is covered in some detail by Anne Sammon and Sue Gilchrist in an article for Outlaw. They point out that in most cases employers will have taken significant steps to communicate directly with these individuals and will have conducted the necessary risk assessments. But the issue they flag is what if an employee remains reluctant to return, or simply refuses to come into work? It is a question I put to Anne Sammon who joined me by phone from her home to discuss this:
Anne Sammon: “So where an employee remains reluctant to come into work or refuses to come into work and the employer has carried out a reasonable investigation into why is that they're refusing and has determined itself that actually there isn't reasonable grounds for that refusal, then the employer has a few different options. The main one is going to be looking at potentially disciplinary action. So going through a disciplinary process and disciplining the individual for failing to follow a reasonable instruction or failing to attend work. The other option sometimes, depending on the terms of the contract, might be an ability to withhold pay. Now that's very much going to depend on what the contract of employment says. If you've got a standard contract of employment that just says employee must work these hours employer must pay X amount per year or per week or per day then the chances are that you can't withhold pay until you've gone through your disciplinary approach. But if you've got a contract that has a provision for, say, an hourly rate where pay is calculated on the basis of how many hours somebody actually works, then there may be an ability to withhold pay where the employees refusing to work at all. The really difficult situation arises where the employee is continuing to work but just from the wrong location and that is the really tricky piece and that is where you are most likely to have to look to go through your disciplinary process if you don't think the employee’s refusal to attend your normal workplace is reasonable.”