COVID-19: What if my employee refuses to come to work anxious about becoming infected?

There is no general entitlement not to come to work for someone who is not ill and is not deemed to be incapacitated as above but does not want to come to work for fear of being exposed to the coronavirus.

There is no advice at present to shut down workplaces, even after a contact with a confirmed coronavirus case.

Having said that, the employer has a duty of care towards its employees to protect their health and well-being. This includes following the current advice on protecting the workplace against the coronavirus infection.

The employer, for example, will be expected to make available facilities for the staff to wash hands regularly, to sanitise work surfaces, to insist that members of staff showing the symptoms of coronavirus go into self-isolation as per our previous update. The Government is not currently of the view that face masks should be worn by healthy individuals as protection.

It may be helpful to have a consultation meeting with the employee concerned about catching the infection at work to allay the anxiety and perhaps to offer some adjustments. The Government has announced that working from home should be considered where possible. Flexible working should also be considered. Change of start and finish times may be helpful so that the staff do not have to travel to work at peak times.

A specific situation will arise if someone has a chronic anxiety disorder, which is aggravated by the coronavirus epidemic. The chronic mental health condition is likely to be classed as a disability, and allowing the employee to take some time off or to implement, or at the very least consider and consult with the employee about, any adjustments which may be helpful in reducing the anxiety is the employer’s duty.

If your employee does not have any anxiety-related disability, and refuses to come to work acting unreasonably, this should be dealt with as unauthorised absence and disciplinary matter.


Authors: Kiril Moskovchuk

Published: 16 Mar 2020


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