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What can you do if an employee refuses to return to work from being furloughed?

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The UK government announced on the 11th May that those who cannot work from home should start to return to work if their business has reopened.

Concerns are now being raised by employers on how to handle situations where employees are refusing to return from being furloughed or from being absent due to illness.

Under normal circumstances if an employee fails to attend work this could be grounds to follow the disciplinary process with a potential for dismissal. However, under  present circumstance’s employers need to be very careful about applying this approach.

From a legal perspective, an employee cannot be placed in a  detrimental position for refusing to return to the workplace where they have genuine  serious health and safety concerns.

So how do you deal with this as an employer?

It’s important to treat every concern seriously and ensure that all mitigating actions are reflective of everyone’s individual situation.  All employers need to be able to evidence that they have;;

  • Implemented and communicated the governments guidelines to minimise the risk, including providing any protective equipment necessary to keep employees safe. This will be entirely dependent upon the role and the building they work within.  Communicating this to employees is critical to the success of supporting employees return to work.
  • Considered the wellbeing of all employees. Employers may wish to consider holding a well-being interview prior to employees returning to check the physical and mental well-being of their employees.  Remember, lockdown and COVID-19 has impacted everyone in different ways and it’s important to understand how it has impacted each employee individually by giving them the opportunity to discuss their well-being and any concerns they have.
  • Considered all flexible working options. Employers must remember that many people may still have caring commitments to children or other family members who are still shielding.

Once an employer has gathered all the relevant information they  can then make an informed decision as to whether the refusal is reasonable or not.

Consideration should also be given to issues raised by an employee relating to any serious health and safety concerns which may give them  whistleblowing’ protection.

If you are in need of any support or guidance on how to safely and effectively support employees returning to work, or if you would like support or training on conducting well-being interviews before deciding whether to bring employees back to work then call us on 01422 897152 or email enquiries@optimalpbs.co.uk

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