Do you have to go back to work if you're pregnant, vulnerable or shielding due to coronavirus?

PEOPLE who can't work from home are being encouraged to go back to work in the first steps of easing lockdown.

But if you're pregnant, shielding or vulnerable in other ways due to coronavirus, you may be anxious about what it means for you.

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In his address to the nation on Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that those who can't do their jobs from home, such as those in construction or manufacturing, "should be actively encouraged to go to work".

This forms phase one of the government's three step plan to get the country back up and running during the coronavirus pandemic, while also making sure that the NHS doesn't become overwhelmed.

The majority of retail staff won't be asked to go back to work until at least July 4, when all non-essential shops may reopen as part of phase three.

This also applies to workers in gyms, pubs, restaurants and cinemas, meaning you won't be asked to work for at least another few months.

Yet you may wonder what rights you have if you're worried about going back to work due to health concerns. Below we explain all you need to know.

Businesses that must remain closed

WHILE the Government is encouraging some to return to work, it says the following businesses and venues are required by law to stay closed to the public:

  • Restaurants and cafes, other than for takeaway
  • Pubs, cinemas, theatres and nightclubs
  • Clothing and electronics stores; hair, beauty and nail salons; and outdoor and indoor markets not selling food
  • Libraries, community centres, and youth centres
  • Indoor and outdoor leisure facilities such as bowling alleys, gyms, arcades and soft play facilities – although outdoor sports facilities, such as tennis and basketball courts, golf courses and bowling greens, will be allowed to reopen from May 13
  • Some communal places within parks, such as playgrounds and outdoor gyms
  • Places of worship (except for funerals)
  • Hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, campsites, caravan parks, and boarding houses for commercial/leisure use, excluding use by those who live in them permanently, those who are unable to return home and critical workers where they need to for work

Food retailers, food markets, and hardware stores can remain open, while garden centres and certain other retailers can reopen from May 13.

Do you have to go back to work if you're pregnant?

If you're pregnant, public health advice says you should minimise contact with other people outside of your household.

So unless you won't meet anyone at work, your employer should allow you to work from home, if possible.

Bosses are allowed to furlough people for any reason to do with coronavirus, so this could include protecting pregnant workers, said Citizens Advice.

There are also pre-existing, pre-coronavirus protections for pregnant women where the workplace poses a risk.

This could mean being offered suitable alternative work, or a suspension on full pay if no alternative risk-free work is available, it added.

Do you have to go back to work if you're shielding?

If you’re in the "extremely clinically vulnerable" group, also known as the shielded group, the official advice remains that you should stay at home and avoid face-to-face contact.

Once again, employers are allowed to furlough people for any reason arising from the pandemic, including to protect employees' health, said Citizens Advice.

So if you’re unable to work from home, ideally, your employer will furlough you for as long as the official guidance says it's necessary.

If not, you may have rights under the Equality Act 2010 which helps protect you from discrimination.

If you’re in the shielded group and have been denied furlough, you can contact Citizens Advice for help.

What if I'm vulnerable or live with someone who is?

Even if you're not shielding, you may be in one of the groups classed as vulnerable.

And although lockdown restrictions are being eased, the disease is still a deadly threat to many, including people with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or asthma.

The government advises that vulnerable people should continue to strictly limit how much time they spend outside.

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Forcing a vulnerable person to go into work could be argued as "unfair and in some cases discriminatory," explained employment expert Gary Rycroft from Resolver.

But living with someone who's at high risk is not necessarily a reason an employee can refuse to return to work.

Gary said: "However, you can, as an employee, raise a grievance and ask to be listened to and hopefully a compromise may be agreed, such as unpaid leave or using up annual holiday, but if an employer can show that a workplace is safe, the employer may insist on an employee attending."

Will I be fired or taken off furlough if I raise concerns?

"In theory, if an employee refuses to return to work, disciplinary action leading to dismissal may be initiated," said Gary.

"However, if an employee is fired there is a risk to the employer that it will be an 'unfair dismissal'."

Unless the employer can show that it has acted reasonably, staff sacked over raising concerns are likely to be able to bring a successful case against them.

While the government's furlough scheme – where the state will pay 80 per cent up to £2,500 a month of the wages of staff who can't work during lockdown – isn't there to be abused, it may be the best solution in this instance.

Talk to your boss and explain your situation and concerns and see if there is a middle ground that you can both work with.

What does my work need to do before I go back?

Boris Johnson has said that he wants to ensure that everyone is "safe at work".

Guidance for employers published earlier this week says that they will need to ensure they can keep workers apart and encourage them not to use public transport before they can ask staff to return to offices.

To reduce possible transmission of the virus, employers must:

  • Change shift patterns or rotas to limit the number of people in the office at any one time
  • Take steps to stagger entry and exit, including varying shift times
  • Encourage workers to cycle, drive or walk rather than use public transport
  • Improve ventilation

Businesses will also be expected to help stop people from gathering together, staggering entry and exit where possible.

They could also add bike storage facilities, more car parking, and install changing facilities to help people cycle, drive or walk to work.

Communal surfaces like door handles or lift buttons and communal areas like bathrooms, kitchens and tea points should also be cleaned frequently.

You can read previous guidelines released for employers in different industries who have been able to continue to operate throughout lockdown, which you can read here.

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