Many employers will be considering how to prepare for when office working returns. Equally, many employees will be feeling uncertain about whether it safe to return to the workplace. Employers have a legal responsibility to protect workers from risk to their health and safety and the government is clear that workers should not be forced into an unsafe workplace. The below guidelines should be followed by employers to ensure they are adhering to government guidance and are protecting their staff.

Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment

This should be carried out before getting employees back in the workplace and the results should be shared with the workforce.

Develop cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures

Employers should frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly e.g. doors, and should carry out enhanced cleaning in areas which are typically busy e.g. kitchens. They should also encourage more frequent handwashing in accordance with government guidance, and provide hand sanitiser around the workplace.

Help people to work from home

Where possible, employers should take all reasonable steps to help staff work from home by discussing home working arrangements with them and ensuring they have the right equipment for remote access to work systems. Employers should monitor the wellbeing of individuals who are working from home and help them stay connected to the rest of the workforce by including them in all necessary communications, especially if the majority of their colleagues have returned to the workplace.

Maintain 2 metre social distancing

Employers should make every effort to ensure a distance of 2 metres is maintained between staff at all times. Before getting staff back into the workplace, employers should assess the practical viability of this by walking around the area. A test run could be carried out with a few employees to see if the arrangements will work practically.

Employees should be encouraged and reminded to socially distance by way of notice boards, using floor tape to mark areas, arranging one-way traffic through the workplace if possible and avoiding sharing workstations. Employers should also take their particular working environment into account. For instance, if the workplace has poor ventilation and employees are spending a long period of time next to one another, 2 metres distance may be insufficient.

Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, manage transmission risk

Where it is not possible for employees to be 2 metres apart, employers should take practical measures to manage the transmission risk by taking precautions such as using screens or barriers to separate employees from each other. Alternatively, arrival and departure times could be staggered.

Control of infected people

Employers must ensure that they advise employees showing any COVID-19 symptoms to isolate at home.

Collecting health data on employees

Some employers may wish to take additional precautions to protect their staff by collecting data on employees’ health, for instance by measuring employees’ temperatures upon arrival in the office. Employers must be mindful to take data protection laws into account when implementing such measures, and must let employees know what they are doing and why. Employers should also consider whether these measures are really necessary and whether there are less intrusive ways of collecting data. Employers should refrain from insisting on seeing employees’ data from contact tracing apps, as this could be deemed an invasion of privacy laws.

Informing employees about infected colleagues

Employers may be uncertain about whether or not to notify employees if someone in the workplace has COVID-19. Whilst it is pertinent for employers to be transparent, if possible, individuals should not be named unless absolutely necessary. Best practice would be to speak in general terms, for example by stating that there is a risk that someone in the team has COVID-19.

Judge Sykes Frixou has a team of specialist Employment solicitors who are here to address any concerns you may have, either as an employee or an employer, about returning to work safely. We would be delighted to assist so please do not hesitate to contact our reception and ask for the Employment Department.

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