Please follow government guidance or guidance specific to your local area, as it changes often.
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:
- Return to work and health and safety
- 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’)
Going to work
Answers to frequently asked questions on COVID and going to work or returning to the office.
I have COVID, but my employer wants me to come into work
The updated government guidance says that if you have symptoms of COVID or have tested positive, you should stay home and avoid contact with others. This means that you should not attend work. You may also be eligible to take sick leave, and should follow your employer’s sickness absence procedure.
If you test positive or have symptoms, you should alert your employer to the guidance, preferably in writing if they are asking you to work. Your employer should treat this as a health and safety issue, and allow you to take sick leave or work from home if possible.
Please check our Return to Work and Health and Safety pages for more information.
I have COVID, and my employer has asked me not to work
The updated government guidance says that if you have symptoms of COVID or have tested positive, you should stay home and avoid contact with others. This means that you should not attend work.
If you test positive, your employer should treat this as a health and safety issue, and depending on the circumstances and level of risk to others, may ask you not to come into work.
If you are unwell, you should take sick leave. If you are well enough to work, your employer should allow you to work from home. This is recommended by the updated government guidance.
If my employer requires me to take time off work because I have COVID, do I have a right to be paid?
Possibly. If you are too unwell to work, then you should follow your employer’s usual approach to sickness absence. This may be paid or if unpaid, you may be able to claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).
However, if your employer requires you to take time off of work because you have COVID, but you are otherwise well and able to work, it would be reasonable for your employer to allow you to work from home under updated government guidance.
If it is not possible for you to work from home, but you are well and able to work, your employer may have an obligation to continue to pay your wages. This is called the implied term to pay wages, and it applies unless there is a written contractual right of your employer not to pay your wages. Usually there is only a right not to pay your wages if you are a causal worker or on a zero hour contract, for example.
Can my employer count my absence towards my sickness record?
If you cannot attend work because you have COVID, this should be accepted as sickness absence by your employer. You can self-certify sickness for up to 7 days, this includes non-working days, such as weekends and bank holidays.
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 have updated their policies to say that absence related to COVID 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 COVID-related absence into account in making any decisions in relation to disciplinaries or dismissals.
You may be able claim unfair dismissal if your employer dismisses you because of sickness absence taken in relation to COVID. Although this sick leave may be noted on your sickness record, it is important to follow government guidance and not attend work while displaying symptoms of COVID.
Do I have to go in to work if I’m worried about catching COVID?
Yes; your employer can ask you to return to work even if you are worried about catching COVID. Your employer has a duty to protect your health and safety. The government guidance on working safely during coronavirus will be removed from 1 April 2022, and employers will no longer be required to consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments. However, your employer should still follow general guidance on health and safety, which may include COVID risks.
If you have concerns about catching the virus, you can ask your employer to allow you to work from home. You can also make a statutory flexible working request, although there is no guarantee that they will grant your request.
Please check our Return to Work and Health and Safety pages for more information.
What if I’m vulnerable or living with someone who is?
Your employer may require you to come to work, even if you are vulnerable or living with someone who is vulnerable.
Following the successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine programme, the government is advising those who were previously considered ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ or clinically vulnerable to follow the same guidance as the general public on staying safe and preventing the spread of COVID-19. The government guidance no longer recommends working from home, whether or not you are vulnerable or live with someone who is vulnerable.
The pandemic has demonstrated that for many jobs it is possible to work efficiently from home. If you have concerns about catching COVID due to being vulnerable, and if it is possible for you to work from home, you should ask your employer to allow you to work from home.
If you cannot work from home, you should go to work if your employer has followed health and safety guidance. Although, you should note that government guidance on working safely during coronavirus will be removed from 1 April 2022, and employers will no longer be required to consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments. However, your employer should still follow general guidance on health and safety, which may include COVID risks.
It’s a good idea to check if you’re considered disabled under the Equality Act. If you are, you have a right to request reasonable adjustments which may include precautions for catching COVID. You should take advice from your health professional on whether additional precautions are right for you. Your employer may need to adapt your role to protect your health and safety, e.g. to enable you to work from home.
For more information, see our page on Rights for carers and clinically extremely vulnerable.
What if I’m pregnant?
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
In England, from 20 January 2022 the government guidance no longer recommends working from home. However, the pandemic has demonstrated that for many jobs it is possible to work efficiently from home and your employer may still be willing to allow this.
Employers should discuss a return to the workplace with employees and make working arrangements that meet both business and individual needs. Employers should remain responsive to employee 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. Employers should support those previously identified as clinically extremely vulnerable people by discussing their individual needs and support them with taking any precautions recommended by their clinicians.
If you are needed to perform some of your role in a workplace, but part of your job could be done from home, you could ask your employer if you can continue to work from home as much as possible. Many employers are considering a hybrid model where you do some work at home and some in the workplace.
You may also decide to put in a flexible working request.
If you cannot or do not want to return to the workplace, where your job cannot be performed from home, for example, due to your caring responsibilities, we recommend that you explain to your employer the difficulties you are facing that impact your ability to travel to work.
- You could 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
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.
If your children are at home because they have COVID, 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. This is a common challenge and a difficult situation. Many employers are exercising common sense and flexibility to allow employees to vary their working hours or pattern to enable them to work around childcare needs.
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. Many employers have found employees to be more productive whilst working from home or working flexible hours during the pandemic.
See our pages on Flexible Working for more information on how to make a request.
If you are a woman, you can argue that a policy banning home working could amount to 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 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.
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.
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.
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 for 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.
If you cannot work due to lack of childcare or school closures, please see our detailed advice on School Closures and Childcare.
We have a separate article on financial support that is available if your income has gone down because of coronavirus.
This advice applies in England, Wales and Scotland. 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.