Returning to the workplace – what employers should consider
As attention now begins to focus on when the lockdown restrictions in the UK will be lifted, employers will no doubt be thinking about how they can organise a return to work for those employees currently working from home or who have been furloughed. It is important to plan ahead for this as social distancing measures are set to continue for some months.
Business owners can look at the examples provided by the essential businesses that have remained open during the crisis and how they have coped, as well as reading the detailed advice which the Government has published on good practice for employers, social distancing in the workplace, shift working etc which can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/guidance-for-employers-and-businesses-on-coronavirus-covid-19#social-distancing-in-the-workplace---principles
Advice in general includes:
- To make regular announcements to remind staff and customers to follow social distancing advice and to wash their hands regularly.
- Encourage the use of digital and remote transfers of information rather than paper format.
- Where possible to remain 2 metres apart and use floor markings in crowded areas to help remind people.
- Where it isn’t possible to remain 2 metres apart, staff should work side by side or facing away from each other rather than face to face.
- If face to face contact is essential it should be kept to 15 minutes or less where possible.
- Keep teams of workers together (cohorting) and keep teams as small as possible.
- Encourage staff to bring their own food so that staff canteens can remain closed and consider staggering mealtimes to avoid overcrowding in rest areas.
If any employee becomes unwell with any of the symptoms of the Conronavirus, they should be advised to follow the Government’s stay at home advice for households and they should be sent home from work if these symptoms develop whilst at work. It is not necessary to close the workplace or send other staff home at the moment.
There has been speculation in the press about whether people will be encouraged or legislated to wear a face mask and these concerns will no doubt continue into the workplace. The UK does not currently advise the use of face masks outside of a care setting.
Staff handling post and packaging should continue to follow existing risk assessments and safe systems of working and there are no additional precautions needed for this at the moment.
Employers may want to think about making working hours more flexible to allow staff to use public transport for example to do so at off-peak times to reduce their risk of being in a crowd.
Businesses may want to review cleaning procedures, as cleaning helps minimise the spread of the Coronavirus and there is detailed guidance available here for non-healthcare sectors as well as guidance for the disposal of waste https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings
Having a plan in place and ready to be actioned based on the advice currently available from the Government and which can be revised and updated if that changes is going to be helpful for all businesses as a starting point.
The return to work is going to be different for and a learning curve for all businesses, so it is advisable for business owners to make informed decisions, to take professional advice where needed and to document decisions made.
A smooth return to business as usual should be possible for most firms, but they need to plan effectively for this to protect their staff from risk.
Amanda Finn is a Partner at Gullands Solicitors and can be contacted at email@example.com