Until now the government’s official advice has been to work from home if you can, but recently has given the greenlight to return to the workplace if it is safe to do so. This is down to the discretion of the employer, who may want to continue working at home or even take a blended approach.

To help employers plan for a return to the workplace, we’ve created a checklist which you can download here. However, despite the planning, various safety measures and risk assessments being put in place, we have found that people are concerned about going back to work.

Feeling apprehensive about a new way of working is understandable so to help, we’ve answered the HR questions we’re asked most frequently by employees.

Do I have to go back to work if I am concerned for my health and safety?

Before reopening the workplace, your employer is obligated to make sure it is “COVID-19 secure” and this includes completing a risk assessment. The government has issued extensive advice on how to ensure this so try to maintain communication with your line manager so that you can get reassurance that your safety is being taken seriously.

Ultimately, if you do not attend work because of safety concerns, your employer could treat your absence as unauthorised and follow its disciplinary process.

If you arrive back at work and it is clear that there are no safety measures in place to protect you and your colleagues, or if what is provided is clearly insufficient, you can act.

If I have been shielding, can I refuse to return to the workplace?

If you have been asked to shield by the NHS, your employer cannot force you to return to work and should discuss other options with you such as homeworking or temporarily changing working patterns. But from 1 August 2020, the government advice is that you no longer need to shield and instead adopt strict social distancing. This means you will also not be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). However, if you think you need to continue shielding you must show your employer a letter from your doctor.

Can my employer make me come back to work if I don’t have childcare?

Schools are due to open again in September, but you may be asked to return to the workplace before that date. Your employer cannot make you come back to work and you should discuss with them the options available to you as soon as possible.

Any parent that has already been furloughed for a three-week period between March and the end of June, can be re-furloughed for all or part of their usual working hours. Parents working throughout the lockdown period may be able to take other time off such as annual leave, unpaid parental leave, or an unpaid sabbatical.

You could also consider putting a request in for flexible working if you need a longer-term solution.

Can I ask to continue to be furloughed?

You can ask to continue on the furlough scheme but this requires a mutual agreement from you and your employer.

Employers will have to contribute to the costs of furloughed staff from 1st August and so this may make them less likely to agree, especially if they have the work for you to do.

If workloads have not picked up or you have childcare issues, employers can consider continuing furlough or moving to flexible furlough instead, so it is worth discussing this with your employer.

My employer wants to make changes to my pay/hours/working days when I go back to work, can they do this?

Your employer can only change fundamental aspects of your employment contract, like your pay or your working hours, with your agreement. If you only want to agree to a temporary change in your contract (e.g. changing your hours until October), you should make this clear to your employer. Make sure that your agreement is in writing which states that you only agree to the reduction in hours or pay for that period.

Can my employer ask me to take a COVID-19 test before going back to the workplace?

Yes, it is acceptable for your employer to ask you to take a COVID-19 test before you return to the workplace to prevent the transmission of the virus. Testing does only reveal if the virus is currently present and a negative test does not mean that someone will not catch the virus later so you should confirm with your employer that other infection control practices, such as social distancing, regular handwashing and other measures are still in place.

We hope you find this useful, but of course you may have questions that are not covered here or may need further advice. If so, please feel free to contact our team at info@realityhr.co.uk who will be pleased to help you. You can find other resources for the return to the workplace at www.realityhr.co.uk/reset.