While many workers have now been asked to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, many others are expected to continue to attend their workplace, not least those who work in key sectors to care and provide for people.

This is to ensure that our supermarket shelves remain stocked, rubbish is collected and that trains and public transport are still available to those without a car.

Those who are still required to attend work will naturally be concerned about the risk of exposure to Covid-19 to themselves and those close to them.

But what rights do workers have if they are concerned about their own health? Can they refuse to work?

Employment lawyer Justin Quinton, from Slater and Gordon, (pictured below) answers the difficult questions:

This Is Local London:

What are employers' legal duties?

Organisations, as employers, have various legal duties in relation to health and safety in the workplace, which require them to assess risk to employees and take proportionate steps to keep employees safe.

Those duties may sometimes (though not always) extend to providing employees with suitable personal protective equipment or PPE.

Can I refuse to attend work?

In cases where suitable PPE is, however, not being provided when required, employment law could protect employees.

This could apply where an employee refuses to attend work because they reasonably believe there is a serious and imminent danger that cannot be averted.

If so, the employee could be protected against being dismissed or disciplined by their employer because of their refusal to attend work.

The failure to provide PPE will not always justify a refusal to work, as even without PPE there may not be a serious and imminent danger, employers may after all adopt other measures to mitigate any risk.

As staff will not always benefit from such protection, if worried about their position they should, if time permits, seek advice on how best to respond in their particular case.

To summarise the situation...

The Covid-19 pandemic is new ground and it remains to be seen how the law will be applied until it is tested in the courts.

In this unchartered territory, it is important that those who are continuing to work to keep us all safe, are protected themselves.

It is hoped that organisations will give due consideration to options such as home working and furloughing workers under the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Where people are still required to attend work, however, employers should be mindful of their duties under health and safety legislation.

For employees who are required to attend work without being provided with suitable PPE when required, the law may help them to avoid danger to themselves and their families, without fear of consequences.