October 23, 2020

Protecting commuting construction employees

As government advice urged anyone unable to work from home to return to their job, construction employees across the UK have faced challenges as they began to trickle back to their positions. Here Jayne Harrison, Head of Employment Law at Richard Nelson LLP, looks at the best ways to keep them safe on their commute.


The official stance on using public transport to reach work is that construction employees should take other transportation methods where accessible. The government has asked for employees to avoid public transport where necessary to maintain the social distancing measures in place but where it is necessary to use public transport then face coverings are mandatory.

For construction workers, this creates a dilemma as they risk placing themselves in a vulnerable position to reach their work site during the pandemic. To aid employees in understanding their rights when commuting and making their return to work, this article will outline the legalities for construction workers in attending work during the crisis.

Can construction workers continue to work from home?

According to the government, any workers who are unable to complete their job role from home are now able to return to work. For those construction workers who have proven they are able to complete their job from home, they may be able to bargain with their employer to continue working remotely. For employees who are required to take public transportation to access their work site, or who are particularly vulnerable, this argument has strong standing.

Construction workers who are unable to work effectively from home will be expected, in most cases, to return to work if their employer is beginning to operate once again.

Are employers able to force construction employees to travel to work?

Employees who have received a letter from the government asking them to shield will not be expected to return to work, a measure put in place for their own protection.

For employees who are at a higher risk but did not receive a letter from the government, their employer may now expect them to return to work and travel using public transportation if this is necessary. Employers cannot force their employees to return to work, but those who refuse will not be entitled to sick pay and may face disciplinary action from their management.

How can employers protect their employees who are commuting?

Construction employees may be concerned about taking public transportation to get to work or may be worried that their workplace itself is unsafe. Employees who are concerned should speak to their employer to identify what adjustments and risk assessments their company has put in place to protect their workforce.

Employers should be actively engaging in facilitating a safe return for each of their employees, including those who will be commuting to the work site. This is especially important since those who are taking public transport will be putting themselves and their colleagues at a higher risk of infection.

HR and construction managers should consider staggering the start and finish times of their employees who are commuting to ensure the risk of infection is minimised. They should also ensure employees who are able to work remotely are given this option, as well as supporting any staff who are too vulnerable to return to work at this time.

The return of employees to their workplace is something which employers must handle with extreme sensitivity. Employees should feel comfortable discussing their worries with their employer about the pandemic and employers must work in this instance to support their employees as they return back to the workplace safely.

Jayne Harrison, Head of Employment Law at Richard Nelson LLP