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Coronavirus: What are my rights as a non-essential shop worker?

Two people walk down empty High Street

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As lockdown starts to ease, one of the next steps involves getting more shops open across England.

From 1 June, open air markets and car showrooms are set to open followed by non-essential shops on 15 June.

But some people who work in these places are worried about how safe it will be for them when they go back.

Sarah (she didn’t want to give her real name) is 24 and works at a stationery shop in Somerset.

On a normal shift, she says she comes into close contact with “nearly everybody walking through the door.”

She’s worried about going back to work – the shop is narrow and has lots of items out in the open to touch.

“I haven’t seen my family since January, they live three hours away and both of my family members are in the vulnerable category,” she tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

Sarah says she would be “a lot more hesitant” to visit them if she had been in contact with customers at work.

What should be in place?

She wants to know what precautions should be put in place to make sure she’s safe to return.

We put her questions to Danielle Parsons – an employment lawyer for Slater and Gordon.

The government has now published guidelines on how shops should enforce social distancing and Danielle says everyone who works in one should read up on them.

You’ve probably already seen social distancing in supermarkets, which stayed open during lockdown.

“Your employer should make a risk assessment on its premises and the dangers of getting Covid-19 and then set up a safe system of work ” Danielle tells Newsbeat.

“Two metres social distancing should be maintained wherever possible and this can be done by staggering work start times, creating one-way walkthroughs, opening more entrances and exits or changing seating layouts.”

When it comes to making sure everything is clean, Danielle also says workplaces should be cleaned more often too.

“Close attention should be paid to high contact objects like door handles and employers should provide hand washing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points,” she says.

‘I’m worried about giving it to my mum’

Georgia is 18 and works part time in Primark in Wolverhampton. She says she understands why the company wants to open its doors, because it “doesn’t have any customers from online, so it’s losing money.”

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Georgia

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Georgia usually works on Saturdays, which she says are “really busy”

That said, she says it will be hard to implement social distancing.

“I know in grocery shops they set out a designated route around the store, making sure that people are two metres apart at all times,” Georgia says.

“I don’t feel like we would be able to do that – we have the men’s section, women’s, kids, and not everyone will want to look at everything in the shop.”

Georgia normally works on the shop floor, putting stock out and dealing with customers. She says she’s not confident that customers who need her help would keep their distance.

What if you don’t feel safe?

Emily is 23 and works in a clothes shop in Westfield, London – one of the biggest shopping centres in Europe.

She tells Newsbeat she “can’t even walk to the shops and back without feeling safe,” and so worries about going back to work as usual.

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Emily

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Emily is apprehensive about going back to work in a big shopping centre

In a one-to-one customer-facing role, Emily says she can’t imagine how it will be possible to social distance.

Danielle says Emily is within her rights to question her employer before she starts work again about what safety measures it’s put in place.

“If your employer is asking you to work somewhere that is unsafe, or if you have other issues which mean that you can’t return to work, then this might not be a reasonable management request,” Danielle says.

“Many people are currently struggling with issues around transport, and childcare – I would suggest that you discuss your concerns with your employer in the first instance, and try to work with them to find a way forward but seek legal advice immediately if you can’t.”

And what about PPE?

Emily wanted to know whether she’ll have to wear PPE when she goes back to work,

“Workplaces shouldn’t encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against Covid-19 outside of clinical settings or when responding to a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19,” advises Danielle.

This means it’s not compulsory, but your employer should do a risk assessment to see if anything extra is needed and if you feel like you’re not protected enough, you should raise this with them.

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Getty Images

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High streets which have been empty during lockdown, may soon come back to life

If the worst does happen, and you lose your job because you complain or refuse to work in unsafe work conditions, you may have a legal claim against the company.

“As long as you can show that the main or only reason you were dismissed was for taking action over a health and safety issue, then your dismissal will be automatically unfair.

“If you think you have a potential legal claim, you should speak to an employment lawyer, a trade union representative or legal advice centre urgently to get advice on your rights,” Danielle adds.

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