What to do if an employee refuses to return to work post-lockdown?

Returning to work post-lockdown can be hard for many employees, especially if you’re now in month 6 of the furlough scheme. Turning your routine upside down again can be tough both mentally and physically, so as an employer you need to be aware of this.

To kick-start our advice on what to do if an employee refuses to return to work post-lockdown, we would suggest keeping up to date with government guidance. New guidance is continuing to surface requiring you, as the employer, to notify shielding employees of any changes and how to keep your working environment safe. You want to ensure you’re seeking the right advice and communicating effectively with your staff.

Are you wondering how you should approach the situation?

If you take away any advice from this blog, it would be to communicate. Communication is key and should be open at all times, this allows employees to reach out with any questions or queries, filling them with confidence when they return to work. Following on from this, you need to listen to the employee’s specific concerns as each case will be different. You’ll need to show sympathy and empathy with each case.

To help with their return to work you need to provide reassurance to help overcome their fears of returning to a potentially unsafe environment, you can do this by outlining changes you have made. In addition to this, we would suggest sharing your risk assessment to demonstrate that their health and safety is a priority.

Be flexible and consider relevant adjustments depending on their circumstances such as continuing to work from home if your employee is clinically vulnerable. Engaging with your employee to seek a solution will help show how much you support and value that employee. Take into account their views, ideas, and suggestions, and always seek professional advice.

Finally, be prepared for any questions on the latest government guidance and give as much notice to employees as possible. This will give employees time to deal with any concerns prior to the return date. Additionally, as an employer one thing you should be aware of is mental health issues. This has been a turbulent time for all of us, make sure you’re showing trust and promoting a good work-life balance. More importantly, reach out to each of your employees just to check they’re ok, this will help in having a positive impact on their day.

What alternatives can I offer other than returning to work?

There are a couple of options we would suggest depending on the circumstances of your business should your employee refuse to return to work. We have put together a list below:

  • Continue home working/remote working. This might require you to make adjustments to facilitate this. E.g. supplying remote working equipment.
    • This is a great solution for those with childcare responsibilities.
  • Utilising different forms of leave. E.g. parental leave
    • We would suggest using this alternative for pregnant employees.
  • Making adjustments to help your employee, these might be to their job role or workplace.
    • If your employees’ concern is due to caring responsibilities, we would recommend exploring these alternatives. E.g. those with childcare responsibilities or those with vulnerable household members.
  • Continuing the furlough scheme until the end of October when this scheme comes to an end. This would be a temporary solution and might prolong the issue.

What to do if all else has failed?

The treatment of dismissals by tribunals, as a result of an employee refusing to return to work for reasons connected with Covid-19, is thus far unchartered territory. However, if despite the business having the correct health and safety measures in place and having sought to engage the employee in resolving their concerns, the employee still refuses to attend work, this could amount to unauthorised absence. 

Unauthorised absence can be a disciplinary matter. The employee could also be deemed to have failed to follow a reasonable instruction which may also be dealt with as a disciplinary matter.  Employees should be made aware of this, and also of the disciplinary steps you may need to take.  Any disciplinary matter should be dealt with under your disciplinary policy and procedure. Cluer HR would be happy to advise if you need to deal with an employee refusing to attend work post-lockdown.

If this raises questions for you, as always please feel free to get in touch with the team on 01386 751740 or email [email protected]

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