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Health and Safety and Business Re-starts after COVID 19

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

In today’s vlog, Robert Gibson turns our attention, not just to his relaxation of formal wear (!), but to what businesses need to do to prepare when lockdown is eventually lifted by the government. There is much speculation as to when restrictions are likely to be lifted and when they are lifted, how that will take place. It would be helpful if the government could provide some indication now but all we know for certain at present is that we are in lockdown for at least the next 3 weeks. Now that businesses have got over the shock of furloughing their staff and the new “normal” routine is actually starting to feel normal, what better time to take stock, plan and prepare the re-starting of your business?

When lockdown is lifted, employers still have a duty of care to provide a healthy and safe working environment for their staff. COVID 19 isn’t going to go away overnight when lockdown is lifted and therefore employers consider the health and safety of their staff in the workplace specifically in light of COVID 19. Why? Well, section 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 provides that an employee who is dismissed is regarded as unfairly dismissed if the reason or principal reason for the dismissal is health and safety; where there are circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believes to be serious and imminent and which he could not reasonably be expected to avert and the employee left or proposed to leave; or while the danger persisted refused to return to his place of work or any dangerous part of his place of work. This covers both employees who don’t return to work after lockdown is lifted and where an employer dismisses an employee who refuses to return to work, who reasonably believes that it was unsafe for them to return. There is no length of service requirement to claim and there is no upper limit on the amount of compensation that can be awarded.

Employers must therefore consider whether the workplace is safe before re-opening to its staff, clients and customers. Consideration should be given to examples such as:

  • Social distancing;
  • Protective equipment;
  • Reducing the number of staff working in the workplace whilst requiring others to work from home, rotating staff as and when necessary;
  • Screens in public areas;
  • The availability of hand sanitiser;
  • Keeping doors open to minimise hand to surface contact;
  • One way corridors;
  • Daily or half daily deep cleaning regimes;
  • Designated isolation rooms;
  • Flexible start and end times so that staff can use public transport to travel to work outside of the traditional rush hour;
  • Delivery zones for goods delivered to the office.

The list above is not exhaustive, there may be other things that employer should consider depending upon the individual characteristics of the workplace.

Employers should conduct a thorough risk assessment, document it, implement it and communicate it to all staff before they return to work.

Get your premises fit for your staff to return to work. Fail to plan; plan to fail.

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