Serious health and safety concerns

Advice for members in schools and nurseries concerned about returning to work (England)

UNISON understands how important it is to open up schools again to all pupils, and especially how important it is that vulnerable children and the most disadvantaged pupils receive as much support as possible.  We have always been clear that we support getting pupils safely back into the classroom as long as it is safe for staff, children and young people.

To reopen, schools and nurseries must have produced a risk assessment to ensure the safety of pupils and staff, and employers must consult all staff on them in good time before they are expected to return to the workplace. Risk assessments are live documents and must be constantly updated to reflect changing circumstances.

Steps to take if you are concerned that returning to work will endanger your health

If you or your branch have not been consulted on your employer’s risk assessment, or the risk assessment is significantly flawed, UNISON will help you to challenge this. Additionally if you believe your health and safety is at serious risk if you go into your workplace we will also support you.

However, to try and best resolve your concerns, it is very important that you follow the process set out below if you have serious concerns about your health, for instance if you are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable or are in multiple high risk categories. For the categories please see the joint union guide:

Guide for vulnerable or higher risk staff

If you are vulnerable (or live with or care for someone who is vulnerable) and are worried because you not been reassured by your employer’s plans, believe it is unsafe to return to your workplace, or your workplace has become unsafe since your return, you should ensure that you raise all your concerns with your employer.

Before considering not returning to work you should also seek the advice of your branch. Remember that you cannot refuse a reasonable instruction to return to work without a good reason.

We have set out a series of steps for members in this situation to take:

  1. Ask for a copy of your employer’s risk assessment – have you or your union branch been consulted on it? Does it comply with the joint unions’ checklist?
  2. If you have not already done so, send the model letter for vulnerable employees to your employer.
  3. Ask your GP for a letter setting out the potential risks to your health (or the health of someone you live with or care for) and reasons why you should not go back into the workplace.
  4. Contact your local UNISON branch.
  5. If you have done all of the above and have clearly expressed your concerns to your school, but these have not been addressed and you feel that your health and safety is at serious risk if you attend the workplace, talk to your branch about submitting UNISON’s template health and safety return to work letter. This makes clear to your employer the reasons why you are not yet intending to return to your workplace but that you continue to be available to work from home.

Please be certain that you have tried everything possible to solve your situation before considering submitting a letter.

Throughout this process it is important you do everything possible to speak to your UNISON branch before taking any further steps.

We understand this is a stressful time and we are committed to doing all we can to support you.

More information and advice

Visit the main advice page for guidance about reopening and a full set of FAQs.