Coronavirus: What does my boss have to do to keep me safe?

Words: - BBC News - 00:21 01-08-2020

Employers in England now have more freedom to decide whether staff should return to their place of work.

But with many people still worried about contracting coronavirus, what are your rights?

From 1 August, the government has changed its guidance about asking people to work from home where they can.

"We're going to give employers more discretion and ask them to make decisions about how their staff can work safely," said Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

That could mean continuing to work from home or returning to the workplace, Mr Johnson said. Employers should talk to their workers about what steps to take and only bring them back to their place of work if it is safe to do so.

Anybody will be able to use public transport - including to get to work - the prime minister said.

For those who do return to work in England, government guidance on working safely across a range of sectors is available. There is separate advice for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Employers must follow a strict code of measures, which can include:

If employees are unhappy and their employer has not addressed their concerns, they should contact their local authority or the Health and Safety Executive, who can force firms to take action.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) says companies should publish risk assessments, so employees know what safety measures are being taken. However, it says that not all firms have done so.

Many workers in public-facing jobs, like shops, bars and restaurants, have already gone back to their workplace. Office workers are among those who could soon be asked to do the same.

Employment law expert Simon Rice-Birchall, from Eversheds Sutherland, says that people who do not show up for work should not expect to get paid.

However, employers should be "extremely careful" about deciding to discipline or sack them.

Under employment law, workers have the right to walk off the job to protect themselves from "serious and imminent" danger, he says.

There are 2.2 million people in England classified as being at high-risk, including those who have received organ transplants or are on immunosuppression drugs.

Employers must be "especially careful" to protect such people, says Tom Neil, from arbitration service Acas.

This may include varying their responsibilities, or keeping them on furlough until it is safer for them to return.

From 1 August they will no longer need to shield and may return to work if their workplace is Covid-secure.

The updated government guidance advises people "that they may use public transport, while encouraging them to consider alternative means of transport where possible".

However, many people are afraid that using public transport will expose them to the risk of being infected by coronavirus.

Face coverings are currently required on public transport across the whole of the UK.

Employers are also encouraged to stagger working times outside rush hour and provide parking and bike storage.

Acas says employers should discuss with returning staff how they will travel to and from work, and offer help where possible.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has rejected reports that face coverings will be made mandatory for office workers on-site in England, though.

Mr Johnson has said that if schools are not open and workers cannot get childcare, employers should not expect staff to return.

While it is not necessarily legal protection if you refuse to go to work, Mr Johnson said parents and guardians who are unable to return "must be defended and protected on that basis".

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