Since the start of the global COVID pandemic, many employees have experienced upheaval, uncertainty, and disruption within their jobs. Some employees have experienced worry about their own personal safety when they are present at their place of work. For others, being furloughed might have put their long-term career aspirations into doubt. With COVID restrictions now easing and the UK firmly following the roadmap out of lockdown, new questions are emerging about employee rights. However, it is important to remember that all employees still have significant rights during COVID.
Access to safe working conditions
Currently, anyone who is able to work from home should do so and you have the right to request flexible working. However, if you need to be present at your workplace, your employer should take precautions to ensure they maximise your protection against COVID. This can include putting satisfactory social distancing measures in place, ensuring that all staff, clients, and members of the public wear the correct PPE when in attendance, and implementing good hygiene practices.
If your private employer demands your attendance in the workplace and you believe it is unsafe to attend, you have the right to refuse. Under section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees have the right not to suffer detriment due to an unsafe workplace. Therefore, you do not have to attend a workplace where measures such as adequate disinfection, implementation of the correct PPE, or social distancing are not in place.
Correct pay and support
As an employee, whether you are present at your workplace or working from home, you should receive the same pay as you normally do. In addition, your employer should provide you with adequate support to ensure that your mental health and wellbeing do not suffer as a result of the pandemic. This is even more important for employees who are working remotely, as it is essential for employers to regularly check in to ensure that everything is going well.
Getting the COVID vaccine
Employees should be allowed to be vaccinated against COVID if they want to get the vaccine. However, there are not currently any regulations in place that mandate employers to pay employees for the time taken away from work to get their vaccine. Equally, employers cannot currently force any employees to get the vaccine if they do not want to. If an employee feels they are being discriminated against in relation to wanting or refusing the vaccine, they have the right to raise an issue with their employer, their trade union representative, or any health and safety representatives they can talk to.
For employees who have been put on furlough or flexible furlough (where you are still working some of your normal hours), your employer should pay you 80% of your normal pay up to £2,500 per month. The furlough scheme can be used for full and part-time employees, agency workers, workers on zero-hours contracts, and apprentices.
If employees test positive for COVID or have been notified by NHS Test and Trace that they are required to self-isolate, employers should support this. Any employee who cannot travel to their workplace due to self-isolation should work from home if they can and if they are healthy enough. Employees who need to self-isolate may also be entitled to a £500 support paymentfrom the UK government.
A grievance can still be raised during the pandemic by employees, even if they are currently on furlough. The grievance procedure can be carried out in a face-to-face setting as long as the employer has carried out a risk assessment beforehand. The proceedings can also be carried out remotely, via online video methods. The latter usually occurs when it is not safe to attend the workplace, or if the employee is currently shielding (or is a carer for a family member) who is shielding due to being at higher risk of severe COVID.