Seven steps to protect your business if an employee refuses to come back to work

May 20, 2020 | Good Management

Workplaces are starting to open again and business owners are reporting challenges or resistance from employees reluctant to return from furlough or from homeworking.

Employees who raise health and safety concerns have some legal protection and, in some cases, are even entitled to refuse to attend work, so it’s vital to be very careful how you handle this situation and not rush into disciplinaries or similar.

Here are seven steps to get your business back on track and avoid legal problems if this is happening to you.

1. Risk assessment

Before bringing anyone back, conduct a thorough COVID-19 risk assessment of your workplace using government guidance, to understand exactly where the risks are to your workforce.

2. Implement Government advice

The Government has issued specific guidance on social distancing and other workplace health and safety measures, including detailed advice for different sectors. Follow it to the letter as this will help you demonstrate that you have done everything necessary and possible to make the workplace safe.

3.  Communicate what you are doing

This is vital – any legal protection an employee has is based on their perception of the risks and their knowledge of the situation. So be specific about exactly what measures you are taking and make sure everyone understands exactly what the workplace will look like and how it will operate when they come back.

4.  Listen to concerns

Don’t dismiss concerns as being irrational or unfounded. Many people are genuinely anxious and some have good reason to worry. If they are shielding themselves, or live with someone vulnerable they might have more reason to be concerned.

Similarly, if their role involves tasks which could represent more of a risk, such as regular contact with the general public, or if their commute involves public transport.

5.  Address concerns where at all possible

Once you’ve understood the specific concerns an employee has, consider whether it is at all possible to address these. An example would be concerns about public transport. Can you provide additional parking, or enable early or late starts so that employees can avoid busy times? Some employers have provided fold up bikes or implemented a Cycle to Work scheme.

6.  Document everything

All of the above should be documented, so that in the event of any kind of dispute or challenge, you can demonstrate all the steps you have taken to make the workplace safe.

7.  Take appropriate action

If you are entirely satisfied that you have addressed all concerns and taken all steps reasonable to protect your workforce and you still have people refusing to attend work, you need to consider what action to take.

Seeking advice on this to determine the best option would be sensible, but you could consider annual leave, unpaid leave or disciplinary action, depending on the specific situation and on an assessment of the risks involved.


If you are experiencing any difficulties with staff returning to work and would like additional advice and support, do get in touch.