Can my employee refuse to come back to work?

People’s views of the COVID-19 vary greatly.  Some seem to be ignoring Government advice.  We have had frantic beaches, street parties and other mass gatherings.  Others are very fearful.  Can your employee refuse to return to work?

Feelings on both sides can be strong.  You may feel their refusal to come to work is damaging the business.  How ever you feel, you must act reasonably and take the following steps.


Providing a Safe Working Environment

Firstly, make sure your workplace is safe.  If you have not already done so, follow the Government’s advice for your industry.

As part of your risk assessment, you should be consulting with your team.

Set out the measures you have taken and what employees will be expected to do to protect themselves.  Take their concerns seriously and demonstrate you have acted upon them.  After all, an outbreak of COVID-19 at your workplace could be devastating for your business.

To show your commitment to health and safety, add details to your website.


What does your business need?

The Government advice is still to work from home if you can.  Your employees may have worked well from home so far.  We have, however, all had different demands on us over the last few months and had to do the best we can to deal with them.  That may no longer be enough for your business and you need to return to having people on site, as you did before.

If your employee has been working remotely, they may not understand the need for change.  You need to be clear about what your business needs and why.


Why does your employee refuse to return?

If your employee believes there is a serious and imminent threat to their health and safety or have genuine health issues, they may refuse to come into work.  You need to understand what their concerns are and how to address these.  Above all, you need to be reasonable.  This means:

  • Tell them what you have done to protect the workplace.
  • Explain why you need them back into work.
  • Ask them to tell you what their concerns are.
  • Ask what you need to put in place so they would feel able to come back.

Then, look at what you can do to help. For instance, if they travel on public transport, can they work alternative hours to avoid rush hour?  Direct them towards the relevant guidance.

Take the time to understand why your employee refuses to return to work and address their concerns.   In many cases, this approach will help you get to where you need to be.  If it doesn’t, please contact me to discuss other options.


Categories Employment law, Health and Safety