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

“If the work is something that could not be done remotely or if there needs to be a certain number of workers in the office, employers are able to tell people to come in,” she added. 

All employees have the right by law to request flexible working which they could use to ask to work from home. Employers can only turn these requests down if they have reasonable cause to do so, for example if the type of work cannot be done from home. 

“However this would be a permanent change to someone’s working arrangements and you might not necessarily be able to go back on it,” said Ms Choudry. 

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 said employers should try to ensure workers are two metres apart from one another where possible, 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. 

Mr Coy 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.   


Below are some questions from our readers. If you would like to submit a question for our next Q&A, please send your queries to 

‘What if my employer no longer has a job for me?’

Our first question comes from @Toklah1 on Twitter. They ask:

“What am I supposed to do if my employer tells me there is no longer a job for me? I was there working as a full time employee before the pandemic.”

Here’s what Marianna has to say:

The Government set up the furlough scheme as a way to avoid people being made redundant. It has agreed to pay people up to 80pc of their usual wage – up to a maximum of £2,500 a month. If your work has dried up because of coronavirus your employer should agree to put you on furlough. Once the scheme ends it will be up to individual companies to decide what to do. Those that are still not in a position to pay workers can either bring all staff back on reduced hours or make some redundancies. 

‘What are the rules for hairdressers visiting people’s homes?’

Our next question comes from Hilary Patterson via email. Hilary asks:

“What are the rules for small, often lone hairdressers, who visit people’s homes sometimes due the the customers inability to travel to a salon, if both parties practice very good social distancing hygiene and wear masks and gloves or other PPE?”

Here’s Marianna’s advice: 

According to the Government’s new five stage plan, hairdressers and beauty businesses will most likely have to wait until July to reopen. 

It has said that people working in sectors including food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research should now go back to work, but that other “non-essential” retail businesses will remain closed. 

That means even those that do home visits rather than operating from a salon should hold off reopening for business.

‘What about if I share a desk?’

Our next question comes from a reader who’d like to remain anonymous. They ask:

“I work on reception whereby only one person needs to be present for each shift, the issue is that there is a desk and computer that is shared which I consider the same as hot-desking. 

“My employer has said it will be fine to sanitise the area after each shift and use our own pens. Is this advisable and in line with Government guidelines?”

Here’s what Marianna has to say:

The Government has said that, if workers do have to come into the office, they should have their own workstation. If this is impossible, workstations should be shared by the fewest number of people possible.

It also said that work surfaces should be cleaned frequently to prevent the spread of coronavirus but did not give guidance on how often that should be. 

Make sure your employer is providing suitable products to clean your work area with and is asking all other employees using that desk to do the same. 

‘Can carpet fitters come to our house and finish their work?’

Our next question comes from Sheila Edwards via email. Sheila asks:

“I was in the middle of having carpet fitted when lockdown happened, we had had a couple of rooms done and were due to have more.  Can you tell me when the fitters will be able to come to my home and finish the work? 

“Meanwhile we are unable to  tidy the house as most things are in the wrong place and it is not worth sorting out the muddle until the carpet is down and furniture can be moved to where it will remain. 

“The shop has the carpet in stock as was bought before they started the work.”

Here’s Marianna’s advice:

Official guidance is currently that anyone who cannot do their job from home should go back to work. This applies to anyone working in industries such as construction, distribution and manufacturing. It’s not clear whether carpet fitters would fall under these categories. Speak to the firm and find out what their policy is. 

Electricians and plumbers are already back at work so it is possible other handymen will be doing the same. 

‘Should I go back to work if I can afford not to?’

Our next question comes Ronald Dyson via email. Ronald asks:

“I am an active 65-year-old self-employed bricklayer who has been on lockdown since March 23.

“Should I go back to work if I can afford not to?”

Here’s what Marianna has to say: 

On Sunday the Prime Minister has said that anyone who is not able to do their job from home should go back to work. That includes workers in the construction industry. Being able to afford to remain unemployed is not a reason for staying off work under the new guidelines. 

‘What protocols should each industry have in place?’

Our next question comes from @SPerezGoldzveig on Twitter. They ask: 

“What protocols should each industry have in place?”

Here’s Marianna’s answer: 

The Government has outlined what safety precautions different industries should put in place, including for construction work, factories, offices, and shops. 

The details can be found here.

‘How will the entertainment industry operate under the two metre rule?’

Our next question comes from a  reader who’d like to remain anonymous. They ask:

“How are orchestras, choirs, opera and ballet companies going to operate under the two metre rule now and in the future? Is the Government going to kill off the entire entertainment industry?”

Here’s what Marianna has to say:

So far the Government has only said that people working in food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research should now go back to work. Other industries will likely remain shut until at least July. Guidance has been given for the safety precautions workplaces that are reopening should put in place and the same will follow when other industries restart business. 

‘I am over 70, can I go back to work?’

Our next question comes from Mary Lushchan via email. Mary asks:

“I read somewhere that over 70s can go back to work if they can’t work from home however it wasn’t clear. I am over 70 and not being paid so I am desperate to go back to work as soon as possible. Please can you advise?”

Here’s Marianna’s advice:

Although some employees are being told to get back to work, advice for vulnerable people having to self-isolate has not changed. They should continue to stay at home and have as little contact with other people as possible. 

‘My daughter has asthma, can she refuse to go to work?’ 

Our next question comes from Jan Crompton via email. Jan asks: 

“My daughter is a Year 2/3 teacher. She has asthma and also has a type 1 diabetic toddler at home.

“Is she within her rights to refuse to go back to work on June 1 if schools reopen?”

Here’s Marianna’s answer:

If she has received a letter from the Government saying she is particularly vulnerable to coronavirus then yes she has to right not to go into work. 

Although some employees are being told to get back to work, advice for vulnerable people having to self-isolate has not changed. They should continue to stay at home and have as little contact with other people as possible.

‘What legislation protects my safety under Covid-19?’

Our next question comes from a reader who’d like to remain anonymous. They ask: 

“I work in a large multi-storey office block with large open planned spaces. My manager has hinted about the benefits of returning to work, which has worried me. If I can conduct most (90 per cent) of my work at home in safety, I cannot see the point of taking the risk of returning to my workplace.

“However, if pressure mounts and if my employer instructs me to return and informs me that the workplace is Covid-19 secure to support the return; what documentary evidence could I request from them to demonstrate that all reasonable adjustments have been made to keep me safe and secure? What legislation protects my safety and security under Covid-19?”

Here’s what Marianna has to say:

Unfortunately the Government has created something of a grey area here. It has said that anyone who cannot do their job effectively from home should go back to work but has left it up to employers to decide what constitutes “working effectively”. It will be up to your employer whether doing 90pc of your work from home is effective enough to allow you to continue working there. All employers should conduct a risk assessment before asking staff to return to work. You can ask them for the results of this assessment. 

If you feel that going into work would cause you immediate harm, you have the right to refuse to go in. Speak to your employer and if an agreement cannot be reached you should contact your union or an employment lawyer.

‘I feel pressured to go back to work’

Our next question comes from James via email. James asks:

“I have been asked to go back to work next Monday. I have asthma and work as a removal man. There will be around four of us and it is impossible to stay two metres apart.

“I have been told I will be on sick pay, not furloughed, if i don’t come in. I can’t afford to live on sick pay as I have a mortgage to pay. I feel pressured to go in and it does not feel right.” 

Here’s Marianna’s advice: 

If you have a letter from the Government saying you are considered vulnerable because of your asthma, you should not have to go into work. However your employer will then only pay you statutory sick pay. You could take a three-month break from your mortgage payments, although interest will be charged during that time. You could also apply for benefits such as Universal Credit or Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA).

‘What if I can only travel into work by train or Tube?’

Our last question comes from Peter Teisen in the comments section. Peter asks:

“What is the situation if the only way to get work is via the Underground, but the tube stations and tubes trains are always crowded?”

Here’s Marianna’s answer:

The Prime Minister suggested workers travel to work by bike, car or on foot. However it said that if you have no other way of getting there you can take public transport. 

Is your employer refusing your requests to work from home? Share your story by emailing and let us know if you wish to remain anonymous.