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Coronavirus (COVID-19) – What are my rights?

Last updated: 1 Oct 2021

PLEASE FOLLOW GOVERNMENT GUIDANCE OR GUIDANCE SPECIFIC TO YOUR LOCAL AREA AS GUIDANCE ON CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19)

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:

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.

What if I’m clinically extremely vulnerable or living with someone who is vulnerable?

Shielding advice has been paused in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The current advice is that you should go to work if your employer has followed COVID health and safety guidance.

Therefore, those who were previously identified as 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 should speak to your employer. Your employer should be able to explain to you the measures they have put in place to keep you safe from COVID at work.

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

The government guidance states if you have COVID symptoms or a positive test result should self-isolate. If you live in the same household as someone with COVID, you should stay at home and self-isolate, unless you are fully vaccinated. 

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.

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, unless you are not required to self-isolate. If you live with someone who has symptoms or has tested positive, you do not need to self-isolate if any of the following apply:

  • You are fully vaccinated – this means at least 14 days have passed since you had your final dose of vaccine
  • You are under 18 years, 6 months old
  • You have taken part in or are currently part of an approved vaccine trial
  • You are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons

You may want to alert your employer to these rules, preferably in writing if they are asking you to work and you are required to self-isolate. 

If an employer knows a worker has tested positive (or lives with someone who has tested positive and is not exempt from having to self-isolate), 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. 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. 

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. 

Childcare

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.

Working from home

Frequently asked questions on your rights in relation to working from home during the pandemic.

My employer is asking me to return to the office, but my job can be done from home

The current Government guidance states that people are no longer being instructed to work from home.

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 some people cannot get the vaccine for medical reasons. 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 those previously identified as clinically extremely vulnerable people (who are no longer advised to shield) 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 consider taking annual leave, or check your employer’s policy for special paid or unpaid leave (e.g. compassionate leave).

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 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”, 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.

Further support

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. See below if you work in a care home. 

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.

I work in a care home, do I have to be vaccinated?

The government recently passed legislation that requires all CQC-registered care home providers ensure that people do not enter care homes (including staff) unless they have provided satisfactory evidence that they have been vaccinated, or for clinical reasons they are exempt from being vaccinated. It comes into force on 11 November 2021 and applies in England. The last date for care workers to get their first vaccination is 16 September in order to ensure they are fully vaccinated by the time the regulations come into force.


In order for an employer to insist that an employee get a vaccination, their request must be considered a ‘reasonable management instruction’. This will depend on the particular circumstances of the employer and the workplace. Given the new legislation requiring care homes to ensure that staff entering the home are vaccinated, it is likely that an employer’s requirement that you are vaccinated would be considered a reasonable management instruction.


If an employer is reasonable in insisting that you get a Covid vaccination and you don’t have a reasonable reason for refusing this, the employer may be entitled to bring disciplinary action against you if you refuse a vaccine, which may include dismissal. The 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, e.g., whether you have a medical exemption or whether there are any particular risks to you receiving the vaccine.


If you have a medical condition that prevents you from having the vaccine, then your employer should not ask you to get the COVID vaccine and should be satisfied with evidence that you have a medical exemption (e.g., a letter from your GP).

If you have a health reason for not wanting to have the vaccination, for instance if you have been advised by a GP that you are not exempt but that there may be a risk to you receiving the vaccine, then you should raise this with your employer. You can ask your GP for a letter advising you on the medical reasons why you shouldn’t have the vaccine and share this with your employer.

If you are worried about getting the vaccine, we recommend that you speak to a health professional about your concerns. Hopefully your health professional can address any concerns you have and give you advice as to whether you should get the vaccine.

Financial support

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.

Advice contact form


The information on the law contained on this site is provided free of charge and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. If you are not a solicitor, you are advised to obtain specific legal advice about your case or matter and not to rely solely on this information. Law and guidance is changing regularly in this area.