Posted Wednesday 13th May 2020
With lockdown restrictions easing slightly, many employers are now planning for the future and assessing how employees can return to work safely. Below are some key points that must be considered by businesses.
Employers must carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment:
All employers have a duty to protect people from harm. Conducting a risk assessment includes identifying what activity/situations could cause transmission of the virus. Once these have been identified, employers must plan how to remove the risk or if this is not possible, outline what steps they will take to control the risk.
Businesses will have to assess where and how employees carry out their work. If it is possible to continue working from home, then employees should do so. Care should be taken to ensure employees have all the necessary equipment to work from home, e.g. laptops, phones, video conferencing equipment etc. and regularly keep in touch with the rest of the team. If it is not possible for employees to work from home, employers must make it clear to all employees that it is important to increase the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning. Employers may also have to consider reconfiguring work spaces to ensure that the 2-meter social distancing guidelines set out by the government are complied with. Other recommendations include reconfiguring desks so they are side-by-side or back-to-back, having screens to separate employees and reducing the number of people each person has contact with by working in smaller teams.
Where the employer is selling goods or takeaway drinks or food, employers should consider creating a barrier between front of house staff and customers. The majority of such outlets are now only accepting contactless payment methods.
For employers with fewer than 5 employees, there is no legal obligation to keep a written record of the risk assessment, however we would recommend that all employers keep a written record and update the risk assessment on a regular basis as things develop. Once the initial risk assessment has been carried out, employers should share the risk assessment with staff and consult with their employees to obtain their views on the business’ plan on how they will be avoiding the risks from COVID-19 to their workforce and others (e.g. customers and suppliers).
Caring for vulnerable individuals:
The government advice is that all extremely vulnerable individuals (those with specific underlying health conditions and have received a letter from their GP that they are in this group) are strongly advised not to work outside of their home.
Those individuals that have been identified as being vulnerable (over 70 or with some underlying health issues) have also been advised to work from home. If this is not possible, then employers must ensure that extra caution is taken to observe social distancing rules for vulnerable employees.
For expectant mothers, if necessary social distancing arrangements cannot be made, it may be possible to suspend such employees on full pay as it is not safe for them to work in view of the risk posed by COVID-19. Please seek advice before imposing any period of suspension to avoid claims of discrimination.
Employers will have to assess each situation on a case by case basis, particularly where an employee has a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (e.g. due to their age or disability) or lives with someone that is extremely vulnerable.
Employees must maintain a distance of 2 meters wherever possible – this includes when travelling to and from work, whilst at work and when travelling between sites during work.
As well as considering working areas, employers should also consider how social distancing can be maintained in communal areas such as canteens, break rooms or similar settings. Steps to consider include staggering arrival and departure times at work to avoid crowding, providing bike racks to help people cycle to work where possible, providing hand sanitiser in the workplace and reducing touch-based security devices such as iPads. Some employers are using floor tape or paint to mark specific areas to help workers and visitors to maintain a 2-meter distance.
Face-to-face meetings are also discouraged as is the sharing of pens and other objects in the workplace. If absolutely necessary, then meetings should be held in well ventilated rooms and with floor signage to help people maintain social distancing. If possible, guidance should be sent to visitors in advance of the meeting to explain social distancing rules and hygiene requirements.
Cleaning the workplace:
All workspace must be cleaned regularly, and employers should assess whether each room has adequate ventilation. Where possible, windows and doors should be opened regularly to encourage ventilation.
Where possible, signage should be put up to remind employees to regularly wash their hands and hand sanitiser should be placed in multiple locations.
Care must also be taken in respect of the delivery of merchandise or goods that enter the workplace so that it can be cleaned to prevent the spread of the virus.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings:
PPE includes safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, high visibility clothing, safety footwear or harnesses as well as facemasks. As part of the risk assessment, employers should assess whether or not it is necessary for employees to wear face coverings. If employees wear face coverings, they must be reminded that they should thoroughly wash their hands before putting the mask on and after removing it. Face masks should also be replaced after each wear and does not replace the need for social distancing at all times.
Some employers are considering introducing shift patterns for their staff to minimise the number of staff in the office at any time.
Clear and regular communication should take place with staff to ensure everyone is aware of any changes to the workplace or working practices.
All staff should continue to monitor their health, if it becomes apparent anyone is suffering from COVID-19 symptoms, they must immediately self-isolate. All of the steps above must be kept under review on a regular basis.
This note is an overview only and should not be relied on as legal advice. The Joelson employment team can be contacted on 07824 668983 if you require any specific advice or guidance on how to facilitate the return to work of your staff – particularly where employees do not wish to return to the workplace due to COVID-19.
This article is for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action.
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