People should only go into work if it is impossible to do their job from home, the Government said, as it announced a new national lockdown. In Scotland and Wales the guidance is to work from home if you can.
Across all countries, workers who cannot do their jobs remotely are allowed to continue going in. That includes construction workers and those in healthcare.
Those who work in other people's homes, such as nannies and plumbers, can continue their business as usual so long as the work is essential. However special exceptions are to be made for people who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable.
Here are your rights if you are being asked to go back into work.
Is your employer being unreasonable?
The Government has said that employers are able to ask workers to come in if they are not able to do their job from home. However it has left it up to employers to decide who can and can't work remotely.
Some employees have reported feeling pressured into returning to the office and Alexandra Mizzi of Howard Kennedy, a law firm, said employers often use the potential impact on performance as a reason to refuse working from home requests.
“However they will find it much harder to justify refusal if home working has already worked out fairly well,” she added.
Employees who are asked to go into work should check their company has followed the guidance on how they can protect their workers from contracting the virus. Employers should have conducted a risk assessment before asking anyone to come in. They should also have followed official guidelines called “Working safely during coronavirus”, which can be found on Gov.uk. These have now been made law, so any business or organisation failing to abide by them could face fines.
Kate Palmer of Peninsula UK, a consultancy for employers, said: “If a business is doing all it reasonably can to reduce the risk then an increase in cases doesn’t necessarily give employees sufficient reason not to go to work. Before declining to go to work, employees should discuss their position with the employer because an unreasonable refusal to go in could have consequences such as having pay withdrawn or disciplinary procedures.”
Employees who have a reason to believe their workplace has not put in place measures to protect them should first speak to their HR department. If the problem is not resolved they should notify the Health and Safety Executive, which regulates workplaces, and their local council.
The Government has said it will ensure that schools and universities remain open so that parents are able to continue working as normal.
Liz McGlone of Bindmans, another legal firm, said: “Your employer should not be forcing you back into the workplace unless there is a business requirement to do so such as on site work which needs to be done in accordance with your job description. If you lose your job because the office environment is not safe to return yet and you refuse to come in, you could have a claim for unfair dismissal.”
What if you're considered to be vulnerable?
Vulnerable people have not been told to shield, as they had to during the first lockdown. They may therefore be asked to go into work if they cannot do their job from home and would not be entitled to statutory sick pay if they do not come into work.
However under the new lockdown people considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable have been advised to shield until they receive the vaccine. They should not go into work . If their job requires them to be physically present the Government has said they should ask to be furloughed, request statutory sick or or seek out benefits such as Employment Support Allowance or Universal Credit.
This group includes people who have had an organ transplant, those with some types of cancer and extreme asthma sufferers.