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Coronavirus: Guidance for a safe return to the workplace

The government recently announced guidance for a return to the workplace. Lodders’ Employment law specialist, Faye Reynolds, explains how to implement the advice.

As part of the Governments roadmap to easing lockdown in England, it was recently announced that employees should be actively encouraged to return to work from today (13th May 2020) if they cannot work from home.

Who should be working from home?

It remains the case that employees who can work from home should continue to do so, and businesses which were required to close on 23rd March must remain closed until further guidance for them is issued.

Government advice remains clear. People who are clinically extremely vulnerable should continue to have zero social contact, and those considered to be clinically vulnerable should continue to severely limit how much time they spend outside the house.

Working safely during the pandemic

The Government has published new guidance intended to help employers, employees, and the self-employed understand how to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic in relation to various types of workplace. The guidance applies to businesses which are currently open, and also includes guidance for shops which may be permitted to partake in a phased reopening, at the earliest from 1st June. It is expected that guidance for other sectors that are not yet permitted to open will follow in due course.

The recent guidance covers eight major sectors of different types of work, including; construction and other outdoor work, factories and warehouses, offices and contact centres, and so on. Each sector has separate guidance, so it is worth referring to the guide most appropriate to your business sector. Of course, some businesses operate more than one type of workplace, such as an office, factory, and fleet of vehicles. In these cases, it is important to refer to more than one of the guides to ensure all workplaces are as safe as possible.

Key steps for returning to work

Although the specifics vary between the types of workplace that the eight guides address, the guidance is based on the following key steps:

  • Work from home if you can. All reasonable steps should be taken by employers to help people work from home. For those who cannot work from home, and whose workplace has not been told to close, the Government’s latest announcement is that they should actively be encouraged to go to work.
  • Carry out an appropriate COVID-19 risk assessment. Where possible, employers should publish the results of their risk assessments on their website. The Government expects all businesses with over 50 employees to do so.
  • Two metres social distancing needs to be maintained wherever possible. Employers need to re-design workspaces to maintain two-metre distances between people. Thought also needs to be given to staggering start and finish times, creating one-way walk-throughs, changing seating layouts, and so on.
  • Where people cannot be two metres apart, transmission risk must be managed. Employers should look into putting barriers in place in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns, have fixed teams in order to minimise the number of people in contact with one another, or ensure colleagues are facing away from each other, and keep workplaces well ventilated. It is also a good idea for employers should consider providing staff with personal protective equipment (PPE). Those working in a confined space should wear a face covering.
  • Additional cleaning. Workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, paying close attention to high-contact objects such as door handles. Employers should provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points as well as tissues.

Getting to work

The Government has recommended walking, cycling or driving and to avoid public transport where possible.

Employers should exercise caution in planning for their workforce to return to work. They should ensure any return into work is both necessary and safe, and that they are taking into account the individual circumstances of their employees.

Employees who feel their workplace is being negligent about their safety may have a claim against them. Failing to put safety measures in place could be considered a breach of an employers’ duty of care, and may also be a breach of health and safety law.

More information

We will continue to update our Covid-19 related posts as new and updated information becomes available. In the meantime, if you need any advice on a return to work, or any other employment-related matter, please contact Faye Reynolds on 01242 229093 or via email.

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Get in touch...

If you need any advice on a return to work, or any other employment-related matter, please contact Faye Reynolds on 01242 229093 or via email.