As businesses are reopening, some employees might be anxious about going back to work due to the fear of contracting the coronavirus. Some essential workers might also refuse to come to work despite being required by their company. But what does the law say about this actually?
It can be tough for both employers and employees to bounce back even after the lockdown is eased. With cases continuously rising, employees’ concern becomes greater about having real contact with others at the workplace. Brian McGinnis, an attorney with Fox Rothschild, told SHRM that employers must find a balance between employees’ legal rights and understandable health concerns with the organisation’s business needs.
It can be tough for employers to make those experiencing mental breakdown due to COVID-19 to return to work as the fear has already rooted in their mind, added McGinnis, yet a good first step for an employer to respond to this is by actively listening and having a conversation. Employers should also consider whether it already has addressed those concerns or if additional steps are needed. Having a candid conversation with employees will avoid unnecessary escalation.
Employment Lawyer Matt Gingell also added that employers have a general duty to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all of their employees. Employees also have the right to refuse to return to work if they believe there is an imminent and serious danger. Employees must provide reasonable reasons regarding why they think employers do not comply with the new workplace health protocol and why they cannot return to work, added Gingell. That being said, employees cannot refuse to attend work without a valid reason and it could result in disciplinary action.
Employees can refuse an employer’s command of returning to the workplace under the following conditions.
It is vital for employers and HR leaders to openly communicate the company’s safety measures of return to work protocols to reduce anxiety. If employees are still nervous about employers’ return to work protocol, employers could ask an inspector from the Ministry of Labour to review the workplace and determine whether in fact the workplace is safe and meets the required criteria. That way, employees can be rest assured when coming back to their cubicles.