My employee doesn't want to return to work - what can I do? Margaret Adewale of HR Dept Gloucester
If you've done everything you can to make your business COVID-secure and you've taken extra steps to protect staff, what can you do if your employees are still refusing to return to work?
(1) If your employee refuses to return, simply as a matter of preference or because it is more convenient for them to work from home, you are entitled to refuse. A refusal to work from their usual place of work is probably a breach of their employment contract or may be considered misconduct. Both could justify disciplinary action and even dismissal.
(2) If your employee is refusing to return due to being clinically vulnerable and/or worried about catching the virus. If it is possible for you to do so, you should allow them to work remotely. Although clinically vulnerable people can now return to work, they still need to take extra precautions. Requests to work from home due to help cope with a disability or because of a genuine concern about the employees' health and safety at your place of work could be discrimination if you refuse to consider a request to work from home. If homeworking is not an option for your business - to ease employee's concerns, liaise with them, ascertain the risks they are worried about, try to address them and carry out a risk assessment. Discuss this with them and the COVID-secure measures the business has implemented.
(3) For those wishing to continue homeworking due to childcare costs, you could consider offering flexible remote work during school holidays. This has the added benefit of preventing annual leave clashes - as parents won't need to rush to book the same days off.
(4) A hybrid return to work seems to be the most favoured option for many employers. This means staff have the option to split their time between the home and workplace, and this brings may benefits -
• A less-crowded workplace can reduce the risk of COVID-19.
• Flexible remote work could prevent your staff from leaving.
• It could boost productivity and employee morale.
Disciplinary action might be your only option, but this should be a last resort.
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