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Going back to work: A guide for employees

Photograph of Nick Renaud-Komiy
Written by Nick Renaud-Komiya , Personal finance specialist

20 May 2020

If you’re one of the people who need to work away from your home, there are a few things you can do to stay safe and keep your costs down.

Two people in office passing documents with keeping a distance

As things change rapidly during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, this guide will be updated regularly to reflect changes in rules and regulations.

On 10 May 2020, the government announced that some lockdown rules are being eased. One of the key changes is that people who’ve been unable to do their jobs from home are now being actively encouraged to return to work. 

Can you go back to work?

The government has said that where working from home is not possible, workplaces should make “every effort” to obey social distancing guidelines. 

If you’re able to go back to work it’s likely that your employer will have been in touch to give details about any new working arrangements. If they have not yet done so, it’s worth contacting your line manager.

The rules on which types of workplaces can be open vary depending on where you are in the UK:

  • England

  • Scotland

  • Wales

  • Northern Ireland

Before you return to your workplace, your employer should carry out a risk assessment to make sure the location is as safe as it can be from a public health point of view.  

This is especially important now that many ‘non-essential’ retail stores will be allowed to re-open from 15 June 2020. If you work in retail, make sure your boss has been able to make the changes needed.

When you cannot do your job from home, official guidance says that your employer should help keep you safe. Citizens Advice says that your bosses can do this by doing some of the following things: 

  • Letting you travel to work at quieter times of the day

  • Reducing how much face-to-face contact you have with customers or the public

  • Making sure that staff stay at least 2 metres apart in your workplace

What are your rights if you cannot return to work straight away?

If your workplace has reopened but you don’t feel able to return to work yet, here’s what you should know.

If you don’t feel safe returning to work

If you are feeling anxious about coming to work or you fear for your safety in the workplace the first thing you might want to do is have an informal chat with your employer.

The government has urged both employers and employees to discuss concerns they might have about workplace safety as result of the coronavirus.

If you do not feel comfortable doing this, you may want to think about finding somebody else you feel comfortable speaking to, like another manager or somebody in human resources.

The government’s Arbitration and Conciliation Advisory Service (ACAS) has some tips on how to approach this type of conversation.

If you do not feel well, you should not go back to work. The government’s guidance says that staff who are unwell with symptoms of coronavirus should not travel to or attend the workplace.

Can you still get paid if you don’t feel able to return to work?

Even though your workplace has re-opened, you might not be able to return to work for health reasons, or needing to care for your children.

Your employer won’t usually have to pay you if you stop working. But there are ways that you might be able to continue getting paid.

If your employer has not already placed you on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (this is also called being ‘furloughed’) then you may want to ask them to do this. If your employer will not furlough you, or they decide not to extend your furlough, it’s worth considering your options.  

Read more about what the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme means for you.

If you still have some annual leave left to use up this year, you may be able to use it to take paid time off. 

Read more about your annual leave rights during the pandemic

If you have a health condition that makes you vulnerable to the virus, you may need to shield or self-isolate. If this is the case, you might be able to get sick pay. Whether your company can offer you sick pay will depend on your company’s sick pay policies.

You may also be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP). SSP is the minimum amount of money your employer has to pay you while you cannot work due to illness. It applies to both full-time and contract workers.

If you’re not receiving the sick pay you’re legally entitled to from your employer, there are some things you can do to get the money you’re owed:

  • Raise an official grievance with your employer. 

  • Contact HM Revenue and Customs Statutory Payments Disputes Team on 0300 200 3500

  • If you’re not in a trade union, find out if there is one operating in your workplace that you can join. 

  • If you are a member of a trade union, speak to your workplace organiser or branch secretary about the help that they can provide to you.

Learn more about sick pay during self-isolation

Can your employer sack you if you don’t return to work?

You do have legal rights not to be dismissed by your employer for raising health and safety issues at work.

But you should also check your employment contract. It may be that your employer is entitled to lay you off temporarily if there is not enough work for you to do. But it needs to be for a fixed, ‘reasonable’ period of time, not indefinitely. 

The government has some guidance on what you can do if you feel you have been unfairly dismissed.

If this happens you may be entitled to take legal action against your employer. But it’s worth noting that any legal action may be delayed as many courts remain closed due to the lockdown rules.

How can you get to work?

The government has said that you should avoid using public transport to get to work unless you have no other option. Here are some handy tips on travelling to work.

Getting to work by car

You are now allowed to share a car with people who are not from your household if that is the only way you can get to work.

The Department for Transport has said that if you do car share, you should share with the same people each time if possible.

You should also keep the car windows open when driving and try and sit as far away from each other as possible.

Using public transport

If you cannot avoid using public transport to get to work, the government has advised that you:

  • Plan your journey

  • Book travel online through the transport provider’s ticketing app or website before travelling

  • Check the latest travel advice on your route before and during your journey

  • Travel at off-peak times if you can

  • Take a less busy route if possible and reduce the number of changes

  • May want to think about wearing a face covering in crowded or confined spaces

  • Speak to a member of transport staff if you feel unwell

  • Help any children that have to travel with you to follow the guidance

Sites like Commuter Club may be able to offer you better value for your commute. You may also want to speak with your employer to see if they can offer you an interest-free loan to cover the cost of a season ticket.

If your train travel has been impacted by coronavirus there are some things you can do.

Cycling to work

There are a range of government-backed Cycle to Work schemes designed to make it cheaper for you to commute to work by bicycle.

The scheme helps you save money by spreading the cost of a bike used to travel to work over monthly tax-free instalments. 

Your workplace registers with one of the scheme providers. You then choose the bike you want and your employer pays for it. You then pay your employer back in monthly chunks taken out of your salary, before any tax is deducted.

Scheme providers include Cyclescheme, the Green Commute Initiative, and Bike2Work.

The government has also announced that it will install pop-up bike lanes in some areas to encourage more people to cycle to work safely.