Return to work employment advice

A webinar today by Peninsula UK sought to address some of the questions employers have about return to work in advance of Sunday’s government announcement.

woman looking at office buildings


As the Government prepares to announce how UK will start coming out of lockdown, employers – and employees – are keen to know about what they can do legally and what their rights are.

A webinar by HR experts Peninsula UK today included advice on questions such as what employers should do if an employee is afraid to return to work. Kate Palmer from Peninsula advised employers to plan ahead and communicate clearly about how they are managing any return to work and what they have done with regard to health and safety. The aim is to reassure staff that they have sought to introduce measures to minimise risk. If employers have done that, she said, they could show that it was reasonable to ask an employee to come into work and that, if they fail to do so, they could be subject to disciplinary action.

She was also asked about employees who might be afraid about the journey to work. She said that, in that circumstance, the employer could refer to any Government measures taken to minimise transport risks.

Palmer was also asked about a range of other issues, including:

  • whether employers can force staff to take annual leave. She said they can as long as they give due notice, which is double the amount of time of the leave, for instance, you would need to give two weeks notice for one week’s leave. Palmer said employers who were worried about large amounts of leave being taken after lockdown, creating operational difficulties, could ask staff to take some leave through furlough, for instance, a couple of days a week. Employees can take leave on furlough and it should be paid at the full rate. She added that bank holidays that fall during any period of furlough should also be paid at 100%.
  • how employers should choose who comes out of furlough. Palmer said the decision should be based on business need rather than particular characteristics, such as age, which would be discriminatory.
  • what furloughed staff can do. Palmer was specifically asked if appraisals could be done on furlough – they can be, she said, as can training – and whether furloughed staff can cancel meetings – Palmer said that could be classed as work so it was safer not to allow furloughed staff to do anything that could be considered work for fear of compromising the furlough scheme.
  • whether staff who are shielding can be forced to work. If staff are shielding, having received a letter about this, they should not be forced to return, said Palmer. However, if they are choosing to shield, but they are not officially regarded as vulnerable, she advised employers to communicate clearly that that was a personal choice and to reassure them about the safety measures they have put in place.

Several questions involved the redundancy process. Palmer emphasised that it was the role which should be made redundant, not the individual or their performance in it. There are five reasons which employers can use to justify dismissal and the employer should have a sound business rationale, she said. If work demand has reduced in any areas, employers would need to pool staff doing similar jobs and go through an objective process to choose who should be made redundant.

Palmer also spoke about preparations for return, such as checking desk spacing for social distancing and providing hand sanitiser. She said any return is likely to be gradual, with staggering of staff likely and the furlough scheme staying open until at least June.

* and Peninsula UK will be holding a COVID-19 employment rights session on Thursday 14th May at 12-1pm on Facebook Live.


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