The government has published guidance to encourage us back into the workplace.

How do we get back to work during a pandemic?

To date, the guidance applies to England only and seeks to give businesses and employees confidence to return to work during the Covid-19 pandemic. The guidance can be found HERE

Once the guidance has been followed, businesses are required to display a poster on their premises to inform their customers, visitors, staff, and contractors. The poster can be found HERE.

Employee Concerns

Businesses will be aware of their duty to protect the health and safety of their employees and others including customers, visitors, and contractors.

Employees who are concerned about returning to work where they have a “reasonable belief” that there is a “serious and imminent” danger may seek to rely on section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (“the ERA”).  This provides an employee with the right to leave the workplace and refuse to work.  This is likely to be only applicable to workplaces where adequate health and safety measures have not been implemented.  Concerns raised about workplace measures could also amount to a protected disclosure under whistleblowing legislation.  

Accordingly, it is imperative that businesses assess risk, consult, and oversee a safe system of work.

Employers will also need to consider individual circumstances especially where there is no effective childcare or where members of the same household are extremely vulnerable or self-isolating. To avoid discrimination and/or health and safety related claims (for which there is no qualifying period and unlimited compensation under section 100 of the ERA) dismissals and/or disciplinary measures should be exercised with caution and only following advice.  

The Guidance

The crux of the government guidance states that businesses should:

1. Carryout a risk assessment

Businesses should carry out a specific Covid-19 risk assessment in consultation with its workers or trade unions.  Where there are 50 or more workers, the risk assessment should be published on the businesses’ website. Template risk assessments and guidance is available from the Health and Safety Executive website.

2. Cleaning and Equipment

Workplaces should be cleaned frequently with attention to high contact areas such as door-handles and office equipment. Businesses should be provided with handwashing facilities or hand sanitizers at entry and exit points. Personal protective equipment is not encouraged unless the risk of Covid-19 transmission is very high i.e. in a clinical setting.

3. Social distancing

Businesses are asked to consider whether their workplace should be re-organised to ensure that there are 2-metre distances between people. Also, to consider the staggering of work schedules, creating one-way walk throughs, opening more entrances and exits and changing the layout of communal rooms. Where social distancing cannot be maintained, workplaces should erect barriers, create shift patterns or fixed teams to minimise the number of people in contact with one another, or to ensure workers are facing away from each other.

4. Homeworking

Businesses are encouraged to help their staff work from home wherever possible.  Although, the guidance recognises that some workers are not able to work from home and, subject to the employer’s risk assessment and safety measures, should go to work.  The most vulnerable should continue to shield themselves. Where possible, public transport should be avoided.  

Specific guidance has been set out in respect of the following sectors:

• construction and outdoor work; factories, plants, and warehouses; labs and research facilities; offices and contact centres; other people’s homes; restaurants offering takeaway all delivery; shops and branches and vehicles.

Should you require any further information regarding business or employment law, please do not hesitate to contact our Mr. Bill Dhariwal, Managing Director, Lawcomm Solicitors, DDI: 01489 864 117, E: bill.dhariwal@lawcomm.co.uk

Please note: The above article was written on 14 May 2020 and does not constitute legal advice.