Your rights on working from home – and whether your boss can refuse you

The Government has said everyone in the UK should avoid "non-essential" travel and contact with others to help curb the spread of coronavirus as patients continue to multiply in the UK.

On Monday, Boris Johnson said people should work from home where possible as part of a range of stringent new measures.

Pregnant women, people over the age of 70 and those with certain health conditions should consider the advice "particularly important", he said.

In the first of a series of press conferences, he explained that everyone should avoid gatherings and crowded places, such as pubs, clubs and theatres, adding that people should work from home where they can.

The UK is now "three weeks" behind Italy – the worst-hit country in Europe – and while schools have not been closed, the country could be heading for lockdown.

In further advice, the Prime Minister said if one person in any household has a persistent cough or fever, everyone living there must stay at home for 14 days.

Those people should, if possible, avoid leaving the house "even to buy food or essentials" – but they may leave the house "for exercise and, in that case, at a safe distance from others".

But what are you rights if you want to work from home – and what measures are there in place for those who work on the front line?

If your employer requires you to be at work, you don’t have a right to work from home just because you’re worried about catching Coronavirus.

However, you may be able to negotiate arrangements directly if you have concerns about coming into the office.

If you have a pre-existing condition which would make you very vulnerable to Coronavirus, such as an auto-immune illness, you have stronger rights.

If your illness means that you’re a disabled person, your employer would be required to consider this as a 'reasonable adjustment' under the Equality Act 2010.

We asked Mini Setty, a partner in employment law at  Langleys Solicitors, for some advice on what workers need to know amid the outbreak.

If an individual needs to self-isolate on the advice of NHS 111 or a doctor, then their employer has an obligation to allow this.

Whether it is treated as sick leave or 'work from home' will depend on whether the self-isolation is precautionary or not.

If self-isolation is an individual's choice, such as because they live with a vulnerable person, rather than a policy mandated by the NHS or the employer, then the employer and employee should have a discussion about the best way forward.

Organisations are being actively encouraged by the Government and the CIPD to facilitate flexible working wherever possible, for all their staff.

What if I work on the front line – will I still be paid to work from home?


  • Coronavirus: Your rights on flights, hotels, events, sick pay and school closures

  • Coronavirus: Everything your employer must do to protect you from the illness

This depends on the exact situation but generally, an employer is obliged to pay its employees for the work that they do.

Lay-offs (where an employee is asked to stay at home unpaid for a temporary period) and short-time working (where an employee is asked to work less than their regularly contracted hours) may both be used.

This has been the case with workers at a number of airlines, including 7,300 at Norwegian Air.

However, there must be express, correctly-drafted clauses in the original employment contracts for this to happen.

If you are able to carry out some or all of your responsibilities by working from home, then it is likely to be considered reasonable for your employer to facilitate this in order to protect the person you live with. This means you will qualify for normal pay.

If, however, you are unable to work from home, then an agreement for taking time off as holiday or unpaid leave might be considered more reasonable.

Regardless, you should begin by having an open discussion with your employer.

All organisations are having to respond dynamically to these exceptional circumstances, and are being encouraged by government and industry bodies alike to exercise caution and act morally and ethically.

We've also got a full guide on  coronavirus sick pay rights, here.

If you've had to take time off work for childcare, here's  what you need to know on coronavirus school closures.

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