Returning to Work From 1 August: The Importance of a Covid-Secure Workplace
On 1 August, shielding comes to an end for the 2.2 million people who have been self-isolating during the pandemic.
The government guidance to all employees also shifts from “work at home where possible” to a more flexible approach, allowing employers to make their own decisions as to how to do business going forward. What will this mean in practice?
Firstly, it’s important to note that employers are required to make workplaces “Covid-secure” for all employees who return to work. The Government have published workplace specific guidance on this but generally speaking irrespective of the type of business you operate, you are required to consider all aspects of your operations and what measures you must put in place to keep people safe. This will range from looking at how social distancing can operate (such as one way systems, installation of screens etc) to enhanced hygiene protections.
Steps to consider if you are returning to work from 1 August
If you are considering a return to the workplace from 1 August, it is imperative that you have taken steps and can demonstrate that you have made the workplace Covid-secure. The risk of claims arising from a perceived failure to provide a safe workplace is very high at the moment. Such claims can be brought under whistleblowing legislation and/or sections 44 and 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. These sections protect employees from being subjected to detriment or dismissal where they hold a reasonable belief that they are (or someone else is) being placed in circumstances of serious and imminent danger and they take actions to avert the danger. There is no minimum service requirement to bring such a claim and the compensatory awards are uncapped. It is important to note that this could apply in a situation where an employee feels that the workplace poses a risk, not to them, but to (for example) a member of their household who has been shielding.
In order to reduce the risk of a claim, it is important to do as much as you can to provide a safe workplace – and to ensure your employees are aware of the steps that have been taken to achieve this.
A risk assessment should be developed in consultation with staff and kept under regular review. Employers should ensure that their risk assessment considers the greater protection of those employees who were shielding to 1 August and share the details of such steps with them to assist them in planning a return to work. This should involve consideration of the risks on an individual basis taking into account any specific conditions and how the workplace could pose a risk on a case by case basis. The more detailed and specific the risk assessment, the better.
It is also vital for employers to publicise the documentary evidence of the steps that they have taken to their employees, so that they are fully informed of the measures.
We would suggest engaging a Health & Safety specialist to assist with preparing your workplace, particularly where an employee or a member of their household has been shielding. Please contact us HERE if you require support.