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Victoria Regan

Partner - Brighton & Hove

9th June 2020

Planning a Return to Work for employees

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on 10 May 2020, the Government published eight separate sector-specific guidelines referred to as the “Covid-19 Secure guidelines”, to assist Employers in England to ensure their workers can return to work safely.

Guidelines aside, the advice remains the same: Where possible, if an employee can work from home, they should continue to do so.

However, if an employee cannot work from home – and if the workplace is open, the Government is keen to encourage that “you should go to work” and that employees should speak to their Employers about this.

Covid-19 Health & Safety Obligations

Employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees and visitors to their premises. They must do all that they reasonably can to provide a safe place of work and a safe set of systems in the workplace – and implement them.

Covid-19 Return to Work Risk Assessment

Before any return to work, Employers will need to undertake a Covid-19 risk assessment. It is also advisable not only to consult with employees and representatives, but to publish the results of the risk assessments.

When undertaking a Risk Assessment in respect of the Workplace, Employers should consider the following:

  • Cleaning – The regularity of cleaning will need to be reinforced and increased, and additional focus should be on regular ‘touch points’ such as handles and office equipment.
  • Hygiene & washing facilities – Provision of hand sanitiser and anti-bacterial products, especially for use on shared equipment such as photocopiers and scanners.
  • Entry & exit – Wherever possible thought should be given to limiting the number of times that employees enter or exit premises.
  • Small spaces – Limiting use or closure of small spaces where social distancing cannot be achieved, such as lifts.
  • One-way systems – Perhaps even putting floor markings down.
  • Layout of seating & desks – Ensuring that the social distancing can be adhered to. In the event that this is not possible, then further thought will need to be given to erecting barriers or ensuring that face-to-face seating can be avoided.
  • Communal facilities – Limiting the use of or closing communal facilities such as canteens, kitchens or gyms.
  • Visitors – Employers will also need to consider introducing protocols for visitors attending the premises.

When undertaking risk assessments in respect of employees, the following should be considered:

  • Social distancing – Ensuring that 2m social distancing can be adhered to and if not, assess any mitigating actions to reduce transmission. If social distancing cannot be adopted, Employers should assess if the activity can go ahead safely at all.
  • Limiting the number of individuals in the workplace – Consider whether it is possible to stagger start/finish times or arranging teams/cohorts.
  • Meetings – Wherever possible, all meetings should take place via video conferencing or by telephone. If this is not possible, then further consideration will need to be given to any meeting room layout and the number of attendees in any room, limiting the length of time any meeting can last and considering ventilation.
  • “Vulnerable people” – Checking if they can in fact continue to work from home and if not, to consider what extra measures will need to be put in place for them.
  • Travel – Whilst an employee’s arrangements for travelling to and from the workplace is not ordinarily an Employer’s responsibility – it is advisable for any risk assessment to consider this as a potential risk. Government guidance is to avoid the use of public transport to get to work, albeit it has not been outlawed. Alternatives could be to consider expanding bicycle storage or carparking facilities. If it cannot be avoided, Employers may consider ways of allowing employees to avoid the busiest times of travel, possibly by changing start times so as to avoid rush hour. Latest Government guidance is that from 15 June 2020, face coverings are mandatory whilst using public transport.
  • PPE – Government guidance has suggested that requiring additional PPE will not be beneficial beyond that which employees ordinarily wear. In the event that this is necessary, training will need to be given to ensure that any PPE is placed and worn correctly.

Covid-19 and Mental Health

In addition to protecting an employee’s physical health, Employers must also consider the impact that the pandemic has had on employees’ mental health. Employees may be feeling anxious about a return to work.

Employers should be sympathetic to any concerns raised and be mindful that different people may require different periods of time to adjust to the ‘new normal’. Employers should remind employees of access to Employee Assist Programmes and Occupational Health Access if available and confirm whether there are Mental Health First Aiders and Champions in the workplace. Managers should be encouraged to hold return to work meetings with employees and to discuss any support that they may need – in particular if any adjustments may need to be made even if on a temporary basis and should be monitored.

Review Current Policies

Another important step for Employers is to review and update where necessary, company polices such as absence from work, health & safety, mental health, homeworking and disciplinary procedures.  Employers may wish to introduce an entirely new Safe Working Policy focusing solely on the safe return of employees. It would also be advisable to provide a mechanism through which employees can raise their concerns.

Covid-19 Return to Work Action Plan Top 10

In advance of any return, Employers need to have an Action Plan in place:

  1. Have a planning team – To assess working models and implement the plan.
  2. Covid-19 Risk Assessment – Keep records and demonstrate compliance.
  3. Share and consult on measures with your workforce in advance of return.
  4. Deal with individual concerns and adjustments.
  5. Undertake a site survey of the premises – See what will and will not work and review any particular ‘pinch points’.
  6. Signposting – In addition to the poster provided by Government to show compliance, other H&S, cleaning and mental health reminders could be placed in key places such as entry/exit of the building and toilets.
  7. Check company insurance – Ensure that the business is covered for Covid-19 related deaths.
  8. Prepare for health & safety spot checks and inspections – Ensure that everything is in place.
  9. Contingency planning – Learn from experience and possibly any mistakes and have a contingency plan in place to protect against either a second spike or a future pandemic.
  10. Keep up to date with Government guidance and adjust your guidance if required.

For further assistance in facilitating a secure return to work, or for more information on employment law issues and the impact of Covid-19, contact Victoria Regan or Amy White in Rix & Kay’s Employment Team.

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