Posted on September 21, 2021
As the commuter lines gear back to normality, managing a safe return of your is imperative to keep your business in compliance with its duties and all involved, safe from the continued threat of Covid.
Although much has been done to mitigate the effects of the virus, a full return to normal still requires caution and proactiveness to ensure the health and safety of your workforce- and the prosperity of your business.
Under English law, all employers have both common law and statutory duties to ensure that the working environments they provide for their workers adhere to health and safety standards. Sector-specific guidance is accounted for in the legislation but a general duty of care subsists toward all employees.
During the course of the pandemic, stringent rules were put in place to safeguard employees. However, following the Government’s decision of 19 July to exit lockdown, most decisions in respect of health and safety will now be in the employer’s discretion subject to government guidance and the overarching general duty of care.
As of 19 July 2021, all restrictions on social distancing have been lifted, the legal requirement to wear face coverings no longer applies, there are no limits on the number in attendance at the workplace or other venues and the instruction to work from home no longer remains.
Although not legally binding, the Government has set out extensive guidance for employers on how to manage a safe return to work for the nation’s workers. The aim of this advice is to ensure that employers have the appropriate knowledge and tools to manage the inevitable risk to health that accompanies such a return. Included in the guidance are what are deemed “priority actions” and “common measures”. These are steps, the Government has designed to mitigate such risks and includes, employers being expected to:
Employers are actively encouraged to carry out risk assessments and to put in place measures to manage risk. Useful templates for the risk assessments are provided by the Health and Safety Executive with specific ones in relation to specific sectors.
As the nature and threat of the virus change, measures and risk assessments are expected to be regularly reviewed.
Risks assessments should also include specific measures in relation to vulnerable members of the workforce such as those who may be pregnant or those with specific disabilities.
Where risks are identified, an employer must take all reasonably practical steps to minimise the risk. However, it is not incumbent on the employer to entirely eliminate all risks.
The “common measures” identified by the Government include the main areas believed to promote transmission of the virus and as such risk assessments should take account of how to minimise the risk of transmission:
In most cases in an office setting, enhanced ventilation and cleaning regimes will suffice. However, employers must also carefully consider the nature of their employees’ roles and may find that for specific staff, for example in a customer-facing role, more measures such as continued face coverings or screens may be necessary to mitigate the risks.
Employers retain the discretion of course to put in place any enhanced measures they feel are reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances such as requiring PPE, reducing contact between staff and customers or maintaining some element of social distancing.
Employers must ensure that their risk assessments are accessible to employees. Moreover, employers must be able to transparently communicate to employees the identified risks in the workplace and the steps being taken to mitigate those risks.
The return to work for many will be an anxious time given the fear and uncertainty that the virus has caused since the first lockdown in March 2020.
Employers need to be sensitive to employees concerns and provide a safe as possible working environment. Much of this can be achieved through following the guidance and ensuring that processes for mitigating covid health risks are reviewed regularly so as to safeguard against the changing nature of this virus.
For more information regarding UK Employment Law or to talk to a specialist Employment Solicitor about how we can help your business effectively manage your workforces’ return to the office please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 0207 903 6889.
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