Should I go back to work? Your rights if your employer asks you to return to the office

What should my employer be doing to protect me at work? 

Those who do have to go into their workplace face confusion over what rules should be followed – such as how close they can be to other people and whether groups of workers must be limited to six people. 

The Government is not setting limits on how many people can meet at one time in workplaces. Even so, people must always maintain a distance of two metres (or one where this is not possible) from those outside their household. 

Workers who have to enter households as part of their job, such as plumbers and builders, can still do so as long as they socially distance and are doing essential work. 

Employers that do ask workers to come in have been told to put in place a number of measures to protect them from contracting coronavirus, such as keeping offices well ventilated and staggering shifts. These can be found on gov.uk and are called “Working safely during coronavirus”. 

Managers should also conduct a risk assessment before reopening and implement any necessary measures to protect employees. 

However many employees have returned to work to find safety precautions have not been put in place. Research by the Trades Union Congress, a federation of unions, found that one in three employees who had returned to work had not been shown safety plans by their employer. 

James Ward of engineering firm Arup said: “Our modelling has shown that interactions in close proximity, such as passing in a corridor, could increase as much as 20 times in offices returning to full capacity. More worryingly, not all employees are at equal risk, with those at some aisle desks facing significantly more interactions than others.”

If your employer has not introduced social distancing measures

Employees told to go back to work could take legal action against their boss if measures have not been put in place to protect them from contracting coronavirus. The Government has relaxed its two-metre rule but said that, in cases where it is not possible, employers should try to ensure workers remain one metre apart instead. They should also stagger start times and keep workplaces well ventilated.

Where this is not feasible they could consider providing staff with personal protective equipment (PPE). Those in a confined space should wear a face covering. Employers should avoid people having to share workstations, use tape or paint to mark areas to help people keep two metres apart and arrange a one-way traffic through the workplace if possible. 

In offices, firms are encouraged to put up screens or barriers to separate people from one another and reduce the number of people each person has contact with by creating team or buddy systems, so each person works with only a few others. 

Jeremy Coy of law firm Russell-Cooke said employees who felt that their workplace was being negligent about their safety could have a claim. “Failing to put safety measures in place could be considered a breach of their duty of care for their employees in their contracts. You might also be able to argue it’s a breach of health and safety law,” he said.