An Essential Worker is Refusing to Come In - What Should I Do?

By Nicola Mullineux
20 Apr 2020

Workers deemed essential by the government are likely very busy right now. Organisations with essential workers will have a significantly larger workload.

If your company is in this position, you may have to face the challenge of essential workers refusing to come into work.

Why would a worker refuse to come in?

The coronavirus pandemic is causing distress across the world. It’s important that you understand why workers may not feel comfortable coming into work. In particular, consider how their work situation could be impacting their mental health.

The coronavirus crisis dominates the headlines, and businesses across the UK are responding to the implications of a UK lockdown. We have seen very challenging times over the past few weeks.

Jobs are potentially on the line, and workers are concerned about their health and that of their loved ones. It’s likely workers are being placed under increased levels of stress and even seeing the development of more serious mental health conditions. Employees struggling with their mental health are more likely to struggle at work. This includes making mistakes, becoming irritable with colleagues and refusing instructions from management. If poorly managed, this could lead to a number of issues for your company.

What do I do if they refuse to come to work?

If a worker does refuse to come into work, it is important to communicate with them to understand why this might be. For example, do they feel your company is not doing enough to keep its staff safe? If so, are there additional options that you could consider? Does the worker live with someone at an increased risk from the virus and are therefore concerned that they are being placed at risk?

It may not be possible to permit a key worker to work from home. However, you should still try to reach some sort of compromise with them. If this isn’t possible, another option could be to furlough the employee in line with the government’s Job Retention Scheme. Whatever you decide, it is important not to appear to be punishing staff in this situation. The exception to this is if they are deliberately committing forms of misconduct. Encourage staff to come forward if they’re struggling during the crisis, not keep their issues to themselves.

How can I help?

It’s essential that you observe staff and strongly encourage them to outline any concerns they may have. This includes any concerns regarding their health & safety at work. You could refer staff to any third-party counselling services that you offer, such as an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).

EAPs can offer advice and assistance to those who may have personal and professional issues. This type of service may prove invaluable for those struggling. You could also consider introducing a mental health first-aider for staff to reach out to if they are struggling. These individuals should be able to signpost those struggling to further support offered by the business.

Expert support during the COVID-19 pandemic

This is a difficult time for businesses. Employers and employees alike will be trying to make the best of their situations. Croner are on hand 24/7 to offer expert HR and health & safety advice. So if you have an issue, don’t ignore it, call us on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Nicola Mullineux

Nicola Mullineux, as Group Content Manager, leads a team of employment law content writers who produce guidance and commentary on employment law, case law and key HR developments. She has written articles for national publications for over 10 years and regularly helps to shape employment of the future by taking part in Government consultations on employment law change.


Nicola Mullineux

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