The long-awaited return for business normality, albeit safely and very much subject to change, is almost upon us. In line with the roadmap set out by Government, businesses should, and will, be considering what the return to work looks like for employees alongside the timing of announcements and the development of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is important to say that employers should proceed with a consultative approach. Many employees will be concerned about the measures in place and the effect on their, and their family’s health. Careful management is therefore key and any concerns should be addressed, with measures taken by employers where necessary to ensure a safe and effective change to working life is undertaken.
Fortunately, recent case law does provide guidance on the practicalities of returning to work and whilst the facts of the relevant case are limited to the parties involved and not an exhaustive list, this does serve as helpful up to date guidance from the Employment Tribunal on the points for employers to consider.
COVID-19, and the risk of infection, is not an automatic reason to refuse attendance at work. Any employer’s duty is to maintain health and safety requirements in the workplace and the obligation is limited to this. The COVID-19 pandemic is outside of the control of an employer and provided sufficient measures are put in place, an employer will not be in breach of their obligations.
Points to consider
Employers should ensure that they have carried out a sufficient risk assessment and taken adequate steps to minimise health and safety risks in the workplace before employees make their return. Much will depend on your business. The steps employers should consider to protect their workforce will vary significantly depending on your trade and particularly the workplace. Ensure you:
1. Put in place social distancing measures;
2. Consider changing work times or stagger shift patterns;
3. Reduce contact with other employees or workers;
4. Limit work-related travel; and
5. Provide (if required) necessary PPE.
It is important to note that no measures can guarantee that a workplace is completely safe from COVID-19, and it is natural for employees to be wary about their return. As such, in planning a return to the workplace, the most important steps for employers to take are to engage in open and constructive dialogue with its employees about the concerns they may have and the steps and/or measures that the employer is taking in response. And secondly, making sure that all decisions, assessments and consultations are clearly documented.
We suggest the following:
- Update your workplace policies and staff handbooks. Specifically:
· Health and Safety Policy,
· Annual Leave Policy,
· Whistleblowing Policy;
· Disciplinary Policy; and
· Grievance Policy.
- Have a COVID-19 risk assessment and ensure this is provided and communicated to employees and workers. This will be a new policy and therefore you will need to incorporate this into existing policies;
- Ensure there is regular cleaning of the workplace, asking employees to wash their hands and using hand sanitiser regularly;
- Ensure that those exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 remain out of the office in accordance with Government guidelines;
- Consider the impact of COVID-19 measures on people’s mental health. This could include those working from home or the effect on employees’ families, those cared for or those who are vulnerable;
- Consider asking customers and employees to wear face coverings, especially in areas that are customer facing;
- Consider HSE guidance on ventilation systems; and
- Seek advice on the current legislation and guidance to ensure that your business is compliant with the applicable requirements and to avoid further detriment in the future.
For advice or assistance on any of the above, please contact our Employment Department on:
T: 0207 758 8170
Charles Douglas Solicitors LLP can accept no liability for any loss incurred in any way by any person who may rely on this article. Any recipient shall be responsible solely for the use of the information contained herein. This article has been compiled using information available to us up to its date of publication.