We've talked before about not being overly-surprised if you have some issues with employees not wanting to return back to work. We're certainly seeing that come to fruition now and I'm sure it's something that will ramp up as we accelerate the return of employees to work.
What I would say is there are probably two very generic categories that employees will fall under.There will be the employees who have a very genuine concern about health and safety when returning. Whether it's the provisions that you're putting in place in the workplace and they're not comfortable with those and they perceive that they are at an unacceptable risk. Or indeed the people they live with are shielding or are highly vulnerable, therefore that's their significant worry - and that obviously will be a worrying situation for those employees.
On the other hand there's probably (definitely) the employees who have been enjoying furlough leave. They’ve been sat at home not having to do any work, they've been in the sunshine. They've been spending more time with their families and, to be honest, they’ve enjoyed their furloughed leave.
Now you're asking them to come back to work. Most employees in that situation won't be that happy about coming back, but the vast majority will come back to work. Some will refuse for that reason as well.
Some of the things that I'm hearing about employees not wanting to return
because they’ve just bought a new puppy - things like that! It makes you smile, but there is a situation to deal with. I would suggest in either of those situations, whatever the reason employees are finding it difficult to return,
obviously the most important thing is to talk to them - and to really understand their concerns and to get to the nub of what the issue is.
Obviously in a situation like “I've just bought a puppy” then there are some fairly simple and straightforward discussions to be had about how reasonable (or not) that reason for not returning is.
Obviously for the employee who has real genuine health and safety concerns, then that's a more comprehensive discussion about what those concerns are, making sure they understand the risk assessments that you've gone through, and the measures that you're putting in place to ensure their risk is minimised as far as possible.
I suppose the test question in determining whether you've been reasonable or not, I would say, is if you would be happy for your son / daughter, brother / sister or mother / father to return into that workplace then if you would then you've probably taken sufficient steps to make that reasonable.
If the discussion in either of those circumstances does still result in that employee refusing to go back to work, I would suggest before going down any formal disciplinary proceedings then I would explore less formal aspects such as unpaid leave, part-time working, etc on a temporary basis
or anything that might help with whatever issue they've got. If it's on a temporary basis then you can obviously review that as things move forward.