Helping with the worries of a pandemic: Going to back to work

23 September 2020

Since March our support line team have been speaking to people who have various worries about life during the Covid-19 pandemic. These have varied from specific practical queries to seemingly unspecific worries.

One thing you might be worrying about is whether or not it is safe to go back to work. This can be especially difficult if you feel pressure from your employers to return.

Gemma is experiencing this issue. She has a long-term health condition that required her to shield. She has largely continued shielding even after the restriction was officially lifted in August. Gemma is working from home. She has been out very little, and has only seen people she trusts to be keeping good hygiene and limiting their contacts.

Her employers have now asked her to return to the office along with the rest of the company, with the Covid-secure measures they have put in place. Gemma doesn’t feel comfortable about this. She feels that in the office her colleagues’ hygiene and amount of social contacts will be out of her control, and others who aren’t in a high-risk category would not be taking the precautions as seriously as she would.

She doesn’t think she will be safe mixing with others for some time and is considering resigning rather than returning to the work environment.

What is the right thing to do in this situation?

There are different potential approaches:

  • Communicating with your company directly about your concerns
  • Trying to monitor and influence the behaviour of your colleagues
  • Asking for further reasonable adjustments such as further measures to implement in the workplace, or to request work from home for longer.

Should I not go to work at all?

Usually the best starting point is to discuss your situation with your manager and to try and find an agreeable solution. Your employers may be able to reassure you that their Covid-secure measures will be properly enforced, or they may agree to increase measures to reduce your personal risk.

If you decide that working in the workplace is not an option at the moment, you may be able to work from home for longer or to take a period of unpaid leave.

Obviously resigning is a big step and you might only consider it if you know that it’s impossible to work safely in the work environment. Before making that decision you should think carefully about your income, especially if you couldn’t find another job straight away.

In Gemma’s case, our call handler Wendy suggested that she talk to her line-manager about her concerns. Wendy suggested Gemma found out more about the measures in place in the office, how they would be enforced, and if she could continue to work from home due to her health condition.

Wendy explained the requirement for employers to make reasonable adjustments for health conditions. They also talked together about the implications of leaving work, how to go about job hunting, and how to find out what financial support she might be eligible for in that situation.

Wendy followed up the call sending an email with links to the information they had discussed, so that Gemma could read more about her options.

Which outcome would be best for me?

Your exact course of action will depend on your personal situation and there is no one right answer for everyone.

In this case, Gemma called back the following week to say that she had spoken to her manager and they had come to an agreement for her to work from home for some time. She said that the conversation with Wendy had helped her to understand her options, to clarify what she could ask for and gave her the confidence to have the conversation with her manager.

Get Support

With the end of shielding and easing of restrictions, many of us are confronted with the risks of day-to-day living, and the possibility of sudden localised lockdowns, while Covid-19 continues to exist in the population. The Guideposts Information Service is supporting people with long-term conditions and carers to manage the current situation by:

  • Practising anxiety-management techniques to feel more confident about going out of the house
  • Talking through decisions about the safest way to access health and social care
  • Finding the right assistive equipment to stay safe and independent at home
  • Connecting you with social groups and peer support online while local groups are still unavailable
  • Signposting to sources of financial and employment support.

Call our support line on 0800 048 7035.

Lines are open Monday to Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm, and calls to the support line are free. Alternative, you can email us at hereinfo@guideposts.org.uk, or talk to an adviser via webchat at www.guideposts.org.uk/information-service.