COVID-19 & Returning to Work – Advice for Employers

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Following the Prime Minister’s recent announcement, those across the country who are unable to work from home are now being encouraged to return to their place of work as part of the Government’s gradual plan to see things return to normal.

Employers that do request for their employees’ presence in the workplace have been advised to put a number of protective measures in place to help with keeping staff safe and to continue to prevent the spread of the virus. This includes carrying out a legally-required risk assessment and acting on the results accordingly.

After anticipating another several weeks of lockdown restrictions, the latest Government announcement comes as quite a surprise to many. Whilst many employers will be keen to get their business up and running again, it’s important to prioritise staff and public health by implementing extra safety precautions and only encouraging a return to the workplace when it is safe to do so.

 

Which sectors are not allowed to return to work?

Whilst the Prime Minister is now actively encouraging those who cannot work from home to begin making efforts to return to work, there are still restrictions in place on which sectors and business are able to reopen. Those which must remain closed include:

  • Restaurants and cafes, although they may reopen to offer takeaway services
  • Pubs, cinemas, theatres and night clubs
  • Clothing and electronics stores
  • Hair, beauty and nail salons
  • Outdoor and indoor markets
  • Libraries, community centres and youth centres
  • Indoor and outdoor leisure facilities, including bowling alleys, gyms, arcades and soft play facilities
  • Hotels, hostels, B&Bs, campsites and caravan parks
  • Boarding houses for commercial or leisure use (although they may remain open for use by those who live in them permanently, those who are unable to return home, and critical workers who need to use them for work).

 

Do I need to complete a risk assessment?

Under Government guidelines, all employers are required to complete a risk assessment before issuing a return to work for their employees. This is a legal duty under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and failure to do so will be considered a criminal offence.

Though it is not yet a legal requirement, employers with over 50 staff members in their employ are expected to publish the results of their assessment online, and this action is encouraged also for those with smaller teams. The risk assessment results will also need to be made readily available to all staff members, and actions and precautionary measures will need to be put into place in order to ensure safety in the workplace.

 

Introducing social distancing measures in the workplace

Employers have been advised by the Government to take heed of the results of their risk assessments and put necessary protective measures into place before asking for employees to return to the workplace. This includes introducing a rule of maintaining a distance of 2-metres between working employees.

Employers are also advised to stagger the start times of shifts for their staff where possible, and invest in additional equipment to keep workplaces better ventilated. Where this is not feasible, you may consider providing staff with personal protective equipment (PPE).

We are currently living in unprecedented times, and businesses across the world have been impacted and are now having to adapt the way that they operate. As an employer, you have a duty of care to your employees and as such no employee should be advised to return to work unless it is safe for them to do so.

 

Which of my employees may be considered vulnerable?

Those who are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill should they contract the virus include anyone over the age of 70 (regardless of their current health), and anyone with an underlying health condition, such as:

  • Chronic respiratory diseases, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
  • Chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic liver disease, including hepatitis
  • Chronic neurological conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone diseases, multiple sclerosis (MS), learning disabilities or cerebral palsy
  • Diabetes
  • Problems with the spleen, for example sickle cell disease, or if the spleen has been removed
  • A weakened immune system resulting from HIV, Aids, certain medicines, steroid tablets or chemotherapy
  • Being seriously overweight

 

This status of vulnerability has also been extended to include any adult who is instructed to get a flu jab every year (on medical grounds), and any women who are pregnant.

 

Employers are advised that making a request for employees to return to work without setting preventative safety measures in place, or advising any vulnerable employee to return to work, and refusing the right of employees to work from home (where it is possible) during the pandemic, could be seen as a breach of workers’ rights and/or a form of workplace discrimination.

It is advisable to seek further legal advice on any of these matters before actioning a return to work for your workforce.

 

With a dedicated HR/Employment Law department, DRN Solicitors are available to provide expert, reliable legal advice and guidance on returning to work or any changes in Employment Law in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, including comprehensive advice on the requirements for risk assessments. For further information, please contact our team on 01282 433241.

 

 

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