Managing workers who don’t want to go back to work

Returning to work after the COVID-19 lockdown is lifted can be nerve-wracking for many healthcare professionals.

Employers in England now have more leeway in deciding where it is safe for their staff to work as lockout requirements are relaxed. As a result, several firms have requested employees to return to work. However, because the epidemic is far from ending, employees still have trepidation about returning to work.

Take into account individual concerns

It might be considered a misbehaviour concern if employees refuse to return without a solid explanation. This should, however, only be performed as a last option. Instead, employers might think about why people are unwilling to return, explain what has been done to reduce the danger to their health, and, if they still reject, examine if there are any hazards left that you can’t reasonably avoid.

Because this is likely to be a challenging period for employees, companies should keep in touch with them regularly, regardless of where they work. Employers should also aim to be as accommodating as possible regarding outside responsibilities like childcare.

Employers should keep in mind that working parents have the right to take time off for dependants in a family emergency. This involves taking a fair amount of unpaid time off work to cope with an unexpected situation – generally no more than two days. In addition, working parents can also take parental leave, which is unpaid time off to care for their children. Employees can take 18 weeks of leave for each child however this is generally limited to four weeks each year.

Unreasonable refusals

Employers may decide to consider firing workers who refuse to return to work despite safeguards being put in place, in which case common employment law laws apply, even during the epidemic. Some processes, however, may need to be tweaked, mainly when face-to-face interactions with workers are essential – such as formal disciplinary hearings – and discussions may need to be done electronically. In addition, as with any dismissal, it’s advisable to get professional guidance to ensure that the employee’s legal rights aren’t violated, such as the right to refuse to return to work if they reasonably feel their job poses a substantial and urgent risk to their health. Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act stipulates this.

Employers should always examine alternatives before considering dismissals, whether as a result of section 44 or otherwise. Options include putting qualified employees on furlough, unpaid leave, or another kind of leave given under the contract of employment or collective agreement to the degree that funding originates from non-public sources. Annual leave, shift rotations, part-time work, and changes to hours and responsibilities are all possibilities. These options would have to be agreed upon with the relevant workers. Any agreed-upon alternatives would have to be temporary and evaluated at a specific date to see if the employees’ positions had changed. Employers can also compel employees to take an annual holiday by providing legally sufficient notice.

Increasing employee engagement

Working in conjunction with appropriate unions, opening up communication between them and their managers, and allowing involvement in decision-making are all possibilities to explore for employees who return to work but are still feeling hesitant (following social distancing rules, if applicable). In addition, according to the NHS website, healthcare businesses may improve employee engagement by encouraging and supporting personal growth and providing training as needed.

Finally, employers are reminded that these are challenging times for both employees and employers therefore dismissals should be used as a last resort only after all options have been exhausted.

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