Can I Be Forced to Go Back to Work after Furlough?

Deana Bates
Employment Law Solicitor

It really depends on your individual circumstances and the reason you’ve been furloughed. If you can’t do your job from home and your employer has work that needs doing by you at work, you may well be expected to return.

Some people are furloughed because their employer didn’t have enough work for them to do because of Coronavirus. Others are furloughed because they couldn’t do their job because of childcare issues as schools or nurseries are shut. Another group of furloughed workers are those that are shielding because of health issues or being pregnant and can’t work from home.

Let’s look at each furlough situation and review whether you can be forced back to work or not.

Not Enough Work or Can’t Work from Home

If you’re furloughed because you can’t work from home or there’s not enough work for you to do because of Coronavirus and your employer needs you to go back to work, you could be forced to return.

You could be dismissed if you refuse to go back to work.

If you’re scared to go back to work because you think it’s not safe and that you could catch Coronavirus, you should talk to you your employer about these concerns on the phone or put them in writing.

Where you reasonably believe that the risk of contracting Coronavirus if you go back to work is serious and imminent and that the risk cannot be avoided and your employer dismisses you, your dismissal could be automatically unfair. You should get legal advice from a specialist Employment Law Solicitor as you could make an Unfair Dismissal Claim against your employer for compensation in these circumstances. 

I’m Shielding

If you have been told to stay at home and shield because you’re at high risk because of pre-existing health conditions or your age, you should not be forced to return to work and you should stay on furlough.

In circumstances where you feel like your employer is trying to force you to ignore the shielding advice and is asking you to return to working outside of your home, you should get legal advice from our Employment Lawyers. This treatment could be disability or age discrimination, depending on your circumstances, and you could possibly make a Discrimination at Work Claim under Health & Safety laws.

Whilst you may not be shielding yourself, you may live with somebody who is and be worried about the increased risk of them catching Coronavirus, if you return to work outside of your home.

If you are in this situation and feel scared you might be placing the vulnerable person you live with at risk, you should discuss your concerns with your employer to see what they can do to help you.

Ultimately, if you feel like your employer isn’t taking you seriously and applies pressure for you to return or threatens you with consequences such as dismissal or a disciplinary warning if you don’t go back, you should get advice from our Employment Lawyers.

In addition, if your employer treats you detrimentally for raising your concerns, you could have a possible claim. Don’t delay in speaking with a member of our specialist Employment Team.

Childcare Issues

If you’ve been furloughed because your child’s school or nursery has shut because of Coronavirus, you could object to returning to work. You could take some time off work using dependants leave but this is only in specific circumstances and isn’t paid leave, unless your employer has a policy or contractual arrangement to pay you for this type of leave.

Another option is to take unpaid parental leave. Parental leave can be taken for up to 18 weeks per child, until your child reaches the age of 18. But advance notice is needed for you to take parental leave so you may not be able to use this option.

Whilst the furlough scheme is still available the UK Government’s guidance is that your employer could allow you to be put on furlough leave if you have no childcare provisions.

If your employer tries to force you to return to work after you’ve told them that you have no one else to care for your child because of Coronavirus and simply tells you that all employees must return to work, this blanket rule could amount to indirect discrimination. If you think you’ve been discriminated against, you should get legal advice from one of our Employment Solicitors, who will discuss the details with you and tell you if your treatment is unlawful.

Talk to Your Employer

Make sure you speak to your employer about what steps are being taken to protect your health and safety at work once you have to go back to working outside of your home. Raise any concerns with them if you don’t think that enough is being done to look after your safety at work.

These discussions should help you decide if you feel safe enough to return to work and your employer shouldn’t treat you unfavourably if you raise concerns about your health and safety at work.

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