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HR advice - what can I do if an employee does not wish to return to work?


The law imposes health and safety obligations on employers and these will continue to apply during the coronavirus pandemic.  In line with other health and safety considerations, you will need to show you have complied with your duty of care, conducted thorough risk assessments, implemented safe measures and ensured compliance.  Once this is all in place you can ask your team to attend work or return to work if they have been furloughed.

So the first questions to ask are:

  • Have you done a risk assessment?
  • Have you communicated with your employees about the steps taken?
  • Have you thought of creative ways to adapt the workplace to make sure it is safe for employees?

However, there will be situations where some people might feel they do not want to go back to work, or be unable to return yet.   An employer should listen to any concerns staff may have and reassure them they have taken steps to protect everyone.  For example, they could:

  • offer extra car parking where possible so that people can avoid using public transport
  • keep someone on furlough if they’re temporarily unable to work
  • arrange for someone to work different hours temporarily to avoid peak time travel on public transport.


So if someone refuses to attend work there are several steps you need to take:

  • Understand their concerns. Ask them what they are particularly worried about and see if this can be addressed.  They could be worried about catching coronavirus, or caring for children.
  • Consider whether it is at all possible for them to work at home.
  • Find out whether they are in the ‘shielding’ group, or particularly vulnerable themselves, or perhaps living with very vulnerable people.
  • Make sure you have definitely taken the necessary steps to protect them in the workplace, including enabling social distancing, taking proper adequate hygiene measures, providing hand sanitiser, extra breaks for handwashing and extra cleaning.
  • Consider asking the employee to take time off as holiday or unpaid leave. 


Ultimately, if you have taken all necessary steps, listened to concerns and a member of your team refuses to attend work without a valid reason, you may then need to consider looking at disciplinary proceedings.  Do get in touch if you are considering this for advice on how best to proceed.

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