PLEASE FOLLOW GOVERNMENT GUIDANCE OR GUIDANCE SPECIFIC TO YOUR LOCAL AREA AS GUIDANCE ON CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) IS CHANGING DAILY
This page covers your basic rights at work during the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, you might also want to look at our other coronavirus pages:
- School closures and childcare
- Redundancy during coronavirus
- What financial support is there for working families?
- Rights for new and expecting parents
- Rights for carers (or those that are living with someone who should be ‘shielding’)
- Return to work and health and safety
Furlough information sheets
This document of key information about childcare, caring, the clinically extremely vulnerable and furlough might be useful to show to your employer.
What to do if your employer refuses to furlough you.
Taking time off work
Answers to frequently asked questions on your rights to take time off work if you’re worried about catching coronavirus, you’re vulnerable or shielding, pregnant, or if you need to self-isolate.
Do I have to go in to work if I’m worried about catching coronavirus?
The government guidance from 19 July, is that people are no longer being instructed to work from home, and a gradual return to work is expected and recommended over the summer.
Employers still have a legal duty to take all reasonable measures to minimise the spread of coronavirus. They should carry out a risk assessment and take reasonable steps to mitigate the risks identified. If you’re worried about returning to the workplace, please check our Return to Work and Health and Safety pages for more information.
If for any reason you are unable to return to the workplace and you need further advice on what benefits you could claim during a period of unpaid leave, we have a specific website page on financial support for families whose income is affected by coronavirus.
As the furlough scheme has been extended, if you are concerned about your health and safety it might be worth asking your employer to put you on furlough or to continue to furlough you, or (if possible) to set you up with home working arrangements. Please check our Furlough Pages for more information.
What if I’m clinically extremely vulnerable or living with someone who is vulnerable?
Shielding advice has been lifted as of 1 April 2021 in England and Wales. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, shielding is also no longer being advised.
The current advice (in England) is that you should go to work if your employer has followed COVID health and safety guidance.
Therefore, those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and those who live with clinically extremely vulnerable can be asked to return to work by their employer providing that the workplace has been made COVID-secure. For more information, see our page on Rights for carers and clinically extremely vulnerable.
If you cannot work from home and if you have concerns about returning to work (for instance, if you are not yet fully vaccinated), you can ask to be furloughed if you are eligible. You can no longer claim Statutory Sick Pay or Employment Support Allowance because you are clinically extremely vulnerable. If your income reduces you might be able to claim Universal Credit. Please check our financial support pages for further information.
If you are concerned, you should explain your situation to your employer and ask to be given the safest available on site role, or ask to be furloughed if eligible.
For more information, see our page on Rights for carers and clinically extremely vulnerable.
What if I’m pregnant?
Please see our detailed advice on Rights relating to pregnancy and new parents.
There are specific health and safety requirements for pregnant employees. These include an obligation for your employer to carry out a pregnancy risk assessment and to alter working conditions or hours to avoid any significant risk. Your employer may do this by taking extra steps to enforce safe distancing at your workplace.
You do have a right to be suspended on full pay if the risks cannot be avoided and there is no suitable alternative work for you. If you are suspended on full pay into the 4th week before your expected week of childbirth, your maternity leave will commence. This right only extends to pregnant employees.
I need to self-isolate, but my employer wants me to come into work
Since September 2020, it has been the law to self-isolate for 10 days if you have tested positive for coronavirus, or have been instructed by NHS Test and Trace to self-isolate.
There is a legal obligation on the worker to tell their employer that they are self-isolating. You must tell your employer (preferably in writing) that you need to self-isolate. If you breach self-isolation, you will commit a criminal offence and may be liable for a fine of £1,000.
It is also an offence for an employer to allow workers (including agency workers) to attend work or any place for any purpose connected to the worker’s employment. Your employer can ask you to work from home, or work from the place where you are self-isolating.
The requirement to self-isolate extends to those who live with someone who has symptoms or has tested positive. You may want to alert your employer to these rules, preferably in writing if they are asking you to work.
If an employer knows a worker has tested positive (or lives with someone who has tested positive), the employer is responsible for stopping them from working (unless they can work from home). Any employer who fails to do so will face a fine, starting at £1,000. The fine could increase to up to £10,000 for repeat offences and for the most extreme breaches.
If your employer is threatening you with disciplinary action or less favourable treatment/dismissal if you do not come to work, you should alert them to the legal duty to self-isolate.
If they continue to demand that you attend work, this would also amount to a breach of a legal obligation and also a breach of health and safety legislation. You have the option to “blow the whistle” in relation to this and should seek legal advice if you notify your employer of the rules and they fail to comply.
What if my employer treats me as absent without authorisation?
It is important to inform your employer as soon as possible in writing of the reason why you are not coming to work. For instance, it maybe because you start developing symptoms which means you have to self-isolate, or you have to care for a dependant.
Failure to inform your employer may mean they treat your absence as unauthorised, but if you inform them and the reason for your absence is justified, your absence will not be unauthorised.
If you take Time off for Dependants, you need to keep your employer informed, in writing, and explain why it is reasonable and necessary for you to be off work.
We would recommend that you keep a written record of any communication you’ve had with your employer about your absence.
Can my employer count my absence towards my sickness record?
If you are sick, this should be accepted as sickness absence by your employer. If you are showing signs of coronavirus, you should not go to see your GP to get a sick note. Instead, the NHS has produced an online version of the sick note called an ‘isolation note’, which your employer should accept.
See our financial support page for information on sick pay and benefits you may be able to claim while you’re off sick.
Your employer should record your sickness absence in the usual way in line with their sickness policy. Many employers will update their policies to say that absence related to coronavirus will not be taken into account in attendance or management procedures that could impact on your employment.
Even if your employer’s policies haven’t been updated, we would not expect your employer to be taking the coronavirus-related absence into account in making any decisions in relation to disciplinaries or dismissals.
If you are concerned about taking sick leave, you could consider whether there are any alternative options to sick leave. You may be eligible for furlough. Your employer may also be willing to agree for you to take annual leave, unpaid leave, unpaid parental leave, a sabbatical or other period of leave. You would need to check how long the leave could last and if the leave would be paid or unpaid.
You may be able claim unfair dismissal if your employer decided to dismiss you because of sickness absence taken in relation to coronavirus. We would strongly emphasise that although this sick leave may be noted on your sickness record, it is vital you do not continue going to work while displaying symptoms.
Can I take or change my annual leave?
Your employer may ask you to use your annual leave to cover the period of self-isolation if you are not feeling unwell. If you take annual leave to cover your self-isolation, you will be paid your normal salary. You can also ask your employer to change your annual leave dates, but there’s no legal obligation for your employer to agree.
If you want to take annual leave at a specific time, your employer can refuse the dates you want to take by giving proper notice, for example if it would leave them short-staffed.
You should follow any rules set out in your contract or another workplace agreement on how to request holiday. In the absence of anything to the contrary in your contract, then the default rules are as follows:
- you would need to give at least twice as much notice as the period of holiday you want to take (so, to take 2 days’ holiday you would need to give 4 days’ notice); and
- your employer could refuse your request by giving the same amount of notice as the holiday it wishes to refuse (so, to refuse 2 days’ holiday the employer would need to give at least 2 days’ notice).
Can I carry over my annual leave into next year if I can’t take it?
Yes, the government has announced that you are able to carry over up to four weeks of annual leave into the next two leave years.
This will allow leave to be taken sometime in the following two years but only where the annual leave was not taken in the current holiday year as a result of the effects of coronavirus.
What if I can’t work from home while I’m self-isolating?
If you can work from home, you should be paid your salary as normal. Even if home working isn’t usually allowed, check with your employer if you are allowed to work from home.
If you cannot work from home, then your employer might agree to put you on furlough or ask you to take a period of annual leave.
Usually, if you can show that you are “willing, ready, and able” to work then you should be paid your full salary, even if your employer asks you to stay off work.
Some employment contracts might have a “lay off clause” which allow your employer to lay you off work without pay. These are very rare. Even if you are entitled to your full pay, you may be inclined to accept a pay cut while you are off work – especially if your employer has cash-flow issues and the alternative is redundancy.
Frequently asked questions on your rights at work in relation to childcare responsibilities. If you cannot work due to lack of childcare or school closures, please see our detailed advice on School Closures and Childcare.
Can my employer ask me to bring my children into work?
In certain circumstances, your employer may be able to ask you to bring your children into work, but they should not force you to do so. You must consider if it is safe for your children to be at your workplace and how it would impact your ability to do your job.
Before agreeing, you should ask your employer how they think the arrangement would work – for example, would they provide a safe space for the children to sit and play? Would you be able to take breaks with them? Would your role or hours be adjusted because of the disruption? And how will they enforce health and safety requirements with very small children?
Your employer knows you and your work space but they won’t know your child so it important to think about these issues before agreeing. You may want to consider a trial day of the arrangement to see if it could work.
If your employer asks you to bring your children to work, they must ensure they comply with health and safety rules for you and your child.
Health and Safety
All employers are required by the law to assess and minimise health and safety risks in the workplace (whether those affect their employees or others). As your employer is asking you to bring your child into work, they must take precautions to protect both your health as an employee and that of your children.
As well as the usual obligation to provide a safe workplace, employers must take additional precautions where young people (i.e. aged 18 or under) are involved. The law specifically states that young people must be protected from risks arising due to:
- their lack of experience;
- being unaware of existing or potential risks; or
- their lack of maturity.
You should consider carefully whether it is safe for your child to come to work with you. You should also consider whether either you or your child(ren) are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus due to pre-existing medical conditions. It may be a good idea to approach your employer to ask them what additional measures they will take to protect you and your child(ren) during this time.
If, following discussions with your employer, you reasonably believe that your workplace would not be a safe environment for you or your child(ren), you may be able to refuse to go to work. For information on what to do if your employer has not taken effective health and safety measures to protect you and your child, please see the answer to our FAQ above ‘Can my employer dismiss me if I refuse to come to work because I’m worried about coronavirus?’.
Indirect Sex Discrimination – Women
If you don’t want to take your children to work because it would significantly affect your performance or productivity, you may be able to refuse to come into work and/or bring a claim against your employer for indirect sex discrimination.
You could argue that your employer’s policy of requiring employees with children to bring their children to work disproportionately impacts women who generally have more childcare responsibilities. However, remember that an employer can theoretically justify indirect discrimination if they have a legitimate business need for their actions.
You can find more information on discrimination and flexible working here.
Alternatives – taking time off work and flexible working
You might consider taking leave or adopting a flexible working arrangement (e.g. working from home) to avoid bringing your child into work until alternative childcare becomes available. There’s more information about the leave you might be able to take in our FAQ response ‘Am I allowed time off work if I have to care for my children (because I have no childcare available) or someone else who depends on me?’
I’m working from home but I’m often interrupted by my children
When you are working, your employer has the right to expect that you are devoting your attention to working rather than looking after your children.
However, this is an exceptional situation and many employers are exercising common sense and flexibility to allow employees to reduce or vary their working hours or pattern to enable them to work around childcare needs.
You can ask to be furloughed under the current guidance if you are unable to work (including from home) due to your childcare or caring needs as a result of COVID-19. See our furlough pages for more information.
Ask for flexible working: If you think working flexibly (e.g. moving your hours around to fit around childcare) is an option in your role then you should raise that with your employer. Explain how the pattern could work for you and them.
If your employer does not agree to your request then you have the option to make a formal request for flexible working. If you only want to change your contract temporarily, you should make this clear. We would suggest asking for the new work pattern to remain in place for as long as the government request people work from home due to coronavirus. Making a formal request may not provide an immediate outcome because your employer has 3 months to get back to you, and they may refuse your request. You can ask your employer to respond in a shorter time-frame, or take some leave while your employer considers your request (see below).
See the section below for more advice if your employer refuses to let you work from home.
Other options for taking leave: You may be able to use time off for dependants or unpaid parental leave. See our question on taking time off work if you have to look after someone who depends on you.
Financial support: if your income is reduced as a result of taking time off work or reducing your hours, see our financial support page for more information on what help is available.
Working from home
Frequently asked questions on your rights in relation to working from home during the pandemic.
What are the current rules on homeworking?
The current Government guidance, which was updated on 19 July, states that people are no longer being instructed to work from home, and a gradual return to work is expected and recommended over the summer.
Under previous guidance, employees were advised to work from home wherever they can. Employers and employees were advised to discuss their working arrangements, and employers were advised to take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home, including providing suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working. Based on the COVID-19 Spring 2021 roadmap, published on 22 February 2021, the position on working from home where possible was expected to continue until step 4, which commenced on 19 July 2021.
What if I cannot work from home?
As the guidance no longer instructs people to work from home, you should go to work. If you have previously been working from home you should discuss returning to the workplace with your employer. Employers should take steps to make their workplaces COVID-19 secure and help mitigate the risk of COVID-19. Extra consideration should be given to those people at higher risk. The Government has produced COVID-secure guidelines for sectors across the economy to reduce the risk of spreading of COVID-19.
Can my employer require me to work from home?
It depends on what is written in your employment contract. If there is no term in the contract which provides that the employee should work from home or provision which permits the employer to change the employee’s place of work, then imposing home working on an employee could constitute a variation of the contract requiring employee consent. In the absence of any express terms, as a matter of good practice, an employer should consult the employee, setting out the business reason for home working.
My employer is asking me to return to the office, but my job can be done from home
The current Government guidance, which was updated on 19 July, states that people are no longer being instructed to work from home, and a gradual return to work is expected and recommended over the summer.
Employer’s should discuss a return to the workplace with employee’s and make working arrangements that meet both business and individual needs. Employer’s should remain responsive to employee’s needs, particularly as not all adults have been offered two doses of the vaccine. Extra consideration should be given to people who are at higher risk and to workers facing mental and physical health difficulties. Employer’s should support clinically extremely vulnerable (who are no longer advised to shield) people by discussing their individual needs and support them with taking any precautions recommended by their clinicians.
You may wish to ask your employer if you can continue to work from home or if they would consider a hybrid model where you do some work at home and some in the workplace. You may also wish to put in a flexible working request.
If you cannot or do not want to return to the workplace, for example, due to your caring responsibilities or if you or someone you live with is at higher risk from COVID-19, we recommend that you explain to your employer the difficulties you are facing that impact your ability to travel to work.
If your employer still refuses to allow you to work from home, you can consider the following:
- You can also make a statutory request for flexible working, which your employer must consider and should not unreasonably refuse. However, it can take up to 3 months to approve and your employer can reject your request if it would have a detrimental impact on their business.
- You can request to be furloughed if you are unable to work (including from home) due to caring responsibilties.
- You can consider taking annual leave, or check your employer’s policy for special paid or unpaid leave (e.g. compassionate leave).
You could potentially argue that your employer has breached your contract: they are bound by the duty of mutual trust and confidence, which in these exceptional times would require employers to allow employees to work from home as much as possible. See our article on what to do if you are having problems at work.
My employer has refused to let me work from home because I have to look after my children
Your employer has the right to expect that during your working hours you are actually working. You could talk to your employer and reassure them that you will be working and explain to them how you will manage your work and childcare.
You could potentially argue that your employer has breached your contract: they are bound by the duty of mutual trust and confidence, which in these exceptional times would require employers to allow employees to work from home as much as possible.
You could also tell them that if they think your performance is not up to scratch, they could treat it as a performance/productivity issue, but at least give it a try.
If you are a woman, you can argue that this kind of policy is indirect sex discrimination. A blanket ban of home working for parents with young children impacts more women than men because women tend to have more childcare responsibilities than men. If your employer has allowed some of your male colleagues (especially if they are also parents) to work from home, this could also be direct sex discrimination.
What are my employer’s health and safety obligations if I’m working from home?
Employers owe a duty to take steps that are reasonably necessary to ensure the welfare, health and safety of all of their employees (including those homeworking). Employers have a legal duty to conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of all their employees’ work activities, including those working from home, to identify hazards and assess associated risks. Risk assessments should be reviewed regularly.
Does my employer need to provide me with office equipment and pay for expenses?
There is no general legal obligation on employers to provide equipment for homeworking and they are also not legally obliged to contribute towards expenses of employees working from home. According to Acas guidance on “Working from home during the coronavirus pandemic”, employers and employees should be practical, flexible and sensitive to each other’s situation when working from home. Employers, employees and any representatives should agree on:
- what’s needed to do the job, for example, a reliable and secure internet connection or a suitable desk and chair;
- who will provide or cover the costs of equipment and repairs; and
- technical support for setting up any new equipment or technology.
What are my entitlements while working from home?
In or out of the office, employers have the same obligations to their employees. This means that pay, terms and conditions of employment as set out in the employment contract will still apply.
Employment contracts may need to be amended or renegotiated if conditions change (such as the place and time of work) and such change is not provided for in the current contract.
Setting up to work from home
Employers are responsible for the equipment and technology they give employees so they can work from home. An employer should discuss this with the employee to agree what equipment is needed and they should also support the employee in setting things up.
In setting up the employee to work from home, certain expenses may be covered, including:
- equipment, services or supplies (for example, computers, office furniture, internet access and stationary); and
- additional household expenses (for example, gas and electricity charges).
More information about the expenses and benefits of homeworking can be found here. You may be able to claim tax relief for these costs, but you cannot claim relief if you choose to work from home.
Health and safety
Employers are also responsible for the health and safety of all employees, including those working from home. Employers must carry out risk assessments, make sure employees have the right equipment to work safely and that each employee feels the work they are being asked to do at home can be done safely, and keep in regular contact.
If changes are needed, employers are responsible for making sure they happen. The HSE provides guidance for employers on health and safety for home workers.
In providing further support, employers should:
- Provide access to company data and documents, and ensure that data is secure
- Regularly assess how systems and processes are working
- Set clear expectations of their employees and outline the practicalities of working from home (for example, through a homeworking policy)
- Provide proper management and supervision, and ensure the employee is given the same opportunities for training, development and promotion
- Keep in touch and encourage communication with other employees
- Be sensitive and flexible towards an employee’s situation, for example with childcare. This should be discussed with each employee, and may require an agreed change to contractual obligations.
For more information, ACAS have a homeworking guide for employers and employees.
Testing and vaccine
Your rights if your employer is requiring you to take a coronavirus test or receive the vaccine.
My employer wants me to take a coronavirus test
Your employer may offer or encourage you to be tested for Covid as part of your job. If you are happy to be tested, then you should speak to your employer to make sure you feel comfortable about what will happen, before any test takes place.
It may be a good idea to check your employer’s workplace policy on covid testing, if they have one. Also, to discuss with your employer how the testing process will work:
- How you will get your test results and who will have access to them;
- What the process you should follow is if you test negative for Covid;
- What the process you should follow is if you test positive for Covid;
- What will happen to your pay and leave entitlement if you are asked to self-isolate but are unable to work from home; and
- How your employer plans to use, store and delete your test results.
Remember that your employer’s Covid policy must be in line with Government guidelines; if you test positive for Covid, the Government requires you to self-isolate for 10 days.
Can I refuse a COVID test?
It can be a difficult situation if your employer is asking you to take a Covid test where you would not like to do so. Of course, your employer cannot physically force you to take a test against your will. However, they may be insisting that you get tested or risk disciplinary action or not being allowed to work and receive pay.
In order for your employer to require that you take a Covid test, their request must be considered a ‘reasonable management instruction’. This will depend on the particular circumstances of your employer and your workplace. For example, an instruction to take a Covid test or vaccination may be considered reasonable where you are unable to work from home and you work with vulnerable people and/or with members of the public. It may also depend on whether you are exhibiting Covid symptoms.
If you have Covid symptoms
Government guidance recommends that anyone with Covid symptoms arrange to be tested. Because your employer has a duty to protect the health and safety of their employees, it is likely that they will be able to instruct you or another employee exhibiting symptoms to take a test.
If you fail to follow your employer’s reasonable instruction to arrange a test, your employer is likely to be justified in taking disciplinary action against you.
If you do not have Covid symptoms
Your employer is legally required to take all reasonably practicable steps to reduce workplace risks to their lowest practicable level, and to take appropriate measures to make your workplace “Covid secure”. As part of these requirements, your employer may insist that you take a Covid test even if you do not have symptoms. This is because many people with Covid can be asymptomatic.
Whether this will amount to a ‘reasonable management instruction’ depends on your particular circumstances and the extent to which the risk of Covid could be managed by your employer in other ways. If, for example, the Covid risk in your workplace could be managed instead through social distancing or remote working, it is less likely to be reasonable of your employer to require you to be tested. If you work in an environment where you are in close proximity to colleagues (or the public) and social distancing measures are not possible, your employer’s insistence on you having a test is much more likely to be considered reasonable.
What to be aware of if you refuse a Covid test
If your employer is reasonable in insisting that you get a Covid test and you don’t have a good reason for refusing a test, your employer may be entitled to bring disciplinary action against you if you refuse to be tested.
Your employer will only be able to bring disciplinary action against you for refusing a test if your refusal is ‘unreasonable’. What is considered unreasonable will depend on your individual circumstances, however if you have a medical reason for refusing the test, this is more likely to be considered reasonable than, for example, a matter of principle.
Your employer may also refuse you entry to your workplace if you refuse to take a test if this has the effect of endangering other employees or customers.
What to do if you do not want the Covid test
If you don’t feel like you would like a Covid test and your employer is asking you to have, you should discuss this issue with them. You should explain how you are feeling – if your grounds for refusing are reasonable, it may be that an alternative solution can be reached (e.g. where you are able to work from home instead of coming into the office). Your employer should give your reasons and suggestions for alternative arrangements serious consideration.
If you are concerned about taking the test for medical reasons, you should speak to your GP.
If you feel that these options are not suitable or you are not satisfied with your employer’s handling of the situation, you can seek independent advice on your options.
My employer wants me to get a COVID vaccine
Your employer may offer or encourage you to be vaccinated for Covid as part of your job. If you are happy to be vaccinated, then you should speak to your employer to make sure you feel comfortable about what will happen, before any vaccinations take place.
It may be a good idea to check your employer’s workplace policy on vaccination, if they have one. Also, to discuss with your employer how the vaccination process will work and what will happen to your pay and leave entitlement if you feel ill after being vaccinated and need to take time off.
Can I refuse to be vaccinated?
It can be a difficult situation if your employer is encouraging you to get a Covid vaccination where you would not like to do so. Of course, your employer cannot physically force you to be vaccinated against your will. However, they may be insisting that you get vaccinated or risk disciplinary action or not being allowed to work and receive pay.
In order for your employer to be able to insist that you get a vaccination, their request must be considered a ‘reasonable management instruction’. This will depend on the particular circumstances of your employer and your workplace. For example, an instruction to take a Covid test or vaccination may be considered reasonable where you are unable to work from home and you work with vulnerable people and/or with members of the public. You also may be required to receive vaccinations as part of your job, for instance, if international travel is required or you work in a medical field.
What to be aware of if you refuse a Covid test or vaccination
If your employer is reasonable in insisting that you get a Covid vaccination and you don’t have a reasonable reason for refusing this, your employer may be entitled to bring disciplinary action against you if you refuse a vaccine.
Your employer will only be able to bring disciplinary action against you for refusing vaccination if your refusal is ‘unreasonable’. What is considered unreasonable will depend on your individual circumstances. However, if you have a medical reason for refusing the vaccination, this is more likely to be considered reasonable than, for example, a matter of principle.
Your employer may also refuse you entry to your workplace if you refuse to take a vaccination and this has the effect of endangering other employees or customers.
What to do if you do not want the Covid test or vaccination
If you don’t feel like you would like the Covid vaccination and your employer is asking you to have one, you should discuss this issue with them. You should explain how you are feeling – if your grounds for refusing are reasonable, it may be that an alternative solution can be reached (e.g. where you are able to work from home instead of coming into the office). Your employer should give your reasons and suggestions for alternative arrangements serious consideration.
If you are concerned about taking the vaccination for medical reasons, you should speak to your GP.
If you feel that these options are not suitable or you are not satisfied with your employer’s handling of the situation, you can seek advice on your options.
We have a separate article on financial support that is available if your income has gone down because of coronavirus.
You can be put on furlough for childcare/caring reasons, or if you are vulnerable and cannot work. See our dedicated page on furlough for more information.
To find out what government schemes will help if work has been affected by Covid-19, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) have created a decision tree to help you navigate what you may be entitled to, including whether you are eligible to be furloughed.
This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details.
If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.