With the relaxing of lockdown measures, people in England who cannot do their job at home are now being actively encouraged to go to work instead of being told to do so only if they must.
While the move will be welcomed by those anxious to restart the stalled economy after nearly two months of coronavirus restrictions, there will be concern among some employees about their safety and the risk of infection.
So where do British workers stand in the new normal of the COVID-19 crisis?
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What has the UK government said?
Under the revised guidance for England, the government still says that those who can work from home should continue to do so “wherever possible” in order to reduce the risk of transmission.
However, those who cannot work from home should go in, it says, singling out certain sectors including food production, construction, manufacturing and distribution.
The only exceptions to this are those workplaces such as pubs and restaurants and non-essential shops, which are currently required to remain shut.
It is worth pointing out the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are continuing with the existing “stay at home message” and not encouraging a return to work.
What if I am scared of going back into work?
The government is encouraging employers and staff to discuss and agree working arrangements.
While every effort should be made to help people work from home, where they cannot, official guidance states employers should take clear, practical steps to help protect staff and create a safe workplace, such as shift working.
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Managers have also been told to discuss with staff a risk assessment to identify precautions that may need to be taken.
The government says those who remain concerned that steps to manage risk are not being taken, such as social distancing, should report it to the local authority or the Health and Safety Executive, which can take action.
It is also to publish so-called “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines about making workplaces safe, which it says was developed in consultation with more than 200 business leaders and trades union organisations.
However, while this is all well on paper, critics will cast doubt as to the plan’s effectiveness in the real world of work and the everyday pressures it creates.
What if my boss tries to sack me because I won’t go into work?
The government says bosses should take “socially responsible decisions and listen to the concerns of their staff”, while reaching “a pragmatic agreement about their working arrangements”.
Those needing advice should approach the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), where they can get impartial advice about workplace disputes, according to the guidance.
But again, it is likely that workers and unions will be looking for greater assurance than this.
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What is the lawyer’s view?
Rustom Tata, a partner at leading city law firm DMH Stallard and head of the firm’s employment group, said: “Many workers, presumably on furlough if they haven’t been able to work for the last couple of months, will still be concerned about the health risks of attending at work without there being very clear provisions in terms of what protective measures are being taken in the workplace.
“For others, the journey to and from work will present a logistical challenge. And that’s before the health risks of travelling on public transport.”
He added: “In most cases, if the employee doesn’t attend work, the employer could notionally seek to dismiss the employee.
“However, in practice that is unlikely to happen. A dismissal would almost certainly be unfair.
“In fact, employees who raise concerns about their safety in the workplace, may be able successfully to claim unfair dismissal with increased compensation and without needing any minimum period of service.”