Employer’s Duty to Conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment
Can an employer force an employee to return to the office? Pre-COVID 19, the short answer would be (in most cases) yes. If an employee refused, it would be a breach of their employment contract, and possible dismissal would follow.
However, employers have a duty of care towards their employees and that means both their physical and mental health. They have to comply with health and safety requirements, which these days may include deep cleaning, social distancing measures, providing personal protective equipment and so on. If employees have a disability, they cannot be discriminated against in that regard.
Under the government's COVID-19 return to the office guidance, all businesses have a duty to conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment. Staff groups should be consulted about the risk assessment and, if the business has more than 50 employees, it should be published on the organisation’s website.
If an employer fails to prepare an adequate risk assessment, an employee may have the right to refuse to return to the office.