Getting back into the Workplace - The Steps Employers need to take

As the country begins the attempt to return to work with the step by step easing of the lockdown, businesses have to make a risk assessment and a plan before they can ask their staff to return to work.  The most recent news is that London, due to its low transmission rate, maybe the first area to be released from lockdown.  Both staff and employers will have to learn new working procedures to limit the risk of spreading coronavirus and keep safe.  The government has provided a series of guides for employers to follow before allowing the doors of their workplaces to be opened focussed around distancing, hygiene and limited face-to-face engagement.

As we are all painfully aware the current situation is like none other experienced in most people’s lifetimes and the new safety obligations placed on employers, particularly those who are already struggling with lack of revenue due to the inability to function due to lockdown, may feel it is quite a significant additional cost.  Giambrone’s employment law team warn that when weighed against a potentially fatal disease capable of affecting all parties, together with the liability that failure to properly address the health and safety issue would deliver to employers, the risk of non-compliance is far too great.

Employees have the right to question your “return to work” plan as far as the safety arrangements are concerned without the prospect of recrimination or any other detriment. Any member of staff who does not want to return to work would have to explain why they are unsatisfied with the safety arrangements or offer a valid reason for not wishing to return to the workplace.  It is has been clearly highlighted in the media that staff who fall within the risk categories who could be compromised either by actually being the workplace or by the journey to the workplace should be sheltered.  However, staff that feel that they may carry back coronavirus to a vulnerable member of their household will have to raise the issue with their employer and may have to depend on either an alternative solution or simply their employer’s goodwill in allowing them to stay at home. 

A further issue for the returning workforce is whether schools and nurseries will re-open, a number of local authorities have made it clear that their schools are unlikely to open as soon as the 1 June, together with two-thirds of parents who allegedly will not send their children back to school according to press reports. The lack of consistency may cause a problem if a business finds that some employees children are back in school allowing their parents to go back to work and other members of staff whose children attend school in a different area are not.  In the event of a school not opening parents of school-age children who are too young to be left on their own may have to take paid or unpaid leave.  Acas warns that employees who do not have a valid reason and fail return to work will be likely to face disciplinary action regardless of the circumstances we are living in.  However, Giambrone’s lawyers strongly advise that every attempt should be made to avoid such a step and where at all possible recognise that an alternative solution may be able to be found for staff that remain anxious about coronavirus.  Staggered working hours to minimise travelling at more risky times of the day is one option that may allay the fears concerned employees.

For more information about safely returning to work please click here