Non-essential business: What are my rights if I work for a business that refuses to close?

Coronavirus now necessitates the closure of most “non-essential” businesses in the UK. The new measure is in place to prevent unnecessary gatherings and social interaction which could spread COVID-19 further afield, but not everyone is abiding.

What are my rights if I work for a non-essential business that refuses to close?

Few businesses can remain open as the coronavirus pandemic wears on.

Amongst businesses which can continue to trade are supermarkets, pharmacies and shops which sell basic necessities.

The government has deemed businesses such as gyms, clothes shops, hardware stores and pubs “non-essential”.


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Some workplaces deemed non-essential have opted not to close, and require employees to come in for their jobs.

For those worried about the coronavirus, travelling into work may prove stressful, and employees may want to find out whether they can stay at home without losing their income.

Michael Redston, an Employment Law Solicitor at Aaron & Partners, told this might not be possible.

He said: “At the present time, on Thursday, March 26, 2020, the government have only insisted that certain types of business close its doors to the public.”

“These include non-essential retail, pubs, clubs, libraries and other businesses where people gather.

“Beyond this, there is no requirement for ‘non-essential’ businesses to close.

“Even these prohibited businesses may still require backroom staff to work.

“Furthermore, although on Monday 23 March 2020, the UK was put into ‘lockdown’ individuals are still allowed to travel to their workplace where working from home is not possible.”

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“As an employee of a business that is asking you to continue to work, an employee does not usually have any particular right to refuse under your contract of employment.

“If you have any specific concerns we would suggest you first raise them with your employer’s HR team.”

The government is currently working to pass emergency legislation in the UK which would allow officials to apply “extraordinary measures” against shops and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A 329-page document formalising these powers has passed the House of Commons and is next due in the House of Lords.

If the emergency powers come into effect, the government will be able to enforce its current insistence for non-essential shops to close.

Failure to close a store after being asked to could result in a fine.

MPs have also passed secondary legislation to enforce social distancing measures.

They would also allow the government to detain or isolate individuals judged at risk of spreading COVID-19.

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