Lifting the lockdown
As we move into the second phase of lockdown with schools partially re-opening, the relaxation of the rules around social contact and the re-opening of some previously closed sectors of the economy, many businesses and employees are starting to look ahead to plan a return to the workplace, un-Furloughing staff and how their business will operate in the weeks and months ahead.
So what steps should employers be taking to facilitate a return to the workplace?
The Government has issued a smorgasbord of guidance on the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) website which covers a wide range of topics about how businesses should operate and protect staff through the Coronavirus pandemic. It also includes specific guidance on facilitating a return to work in a number of sectors.
There are a number of practical steps that employers should take when considering the full or partial re-opening of their workplace, namely:
1. Carry out a detailed risk assessment
A risk assessment should identify what activities or situations might cause transmission of Coronavirus; who might be at risk; what is the level of that risk (for example, Coronavirus seems to adversely impact more on older employees, BAME employees and people with certain disabilities); and how can you remove the risk, or if that is not possible, how can you control the risk.
Some steps to consider are:
(a) how you organise your work areas so people can keep 2m apart;
(b) how people should move around the workplace;
(c) how people can use common areas;
(d) how frequently you need to clean the work and common areas;
(e) are there any objects or surfaces that need more frequent cleaning;
(f) should you adjust start and finish times to facilitate travel to work outside of rush hour;
(g) where should you locate hand sanitisers;
(h) is any other PPE needed; and
(i) how should you implement reasonable adjustments for disabled employees.
Also remember that if you employ more than 50 employees the HSE expects the results of that risk assessment to be published on your website.
2. Check your employers’ liability insurance
To ensure that:
(a) you have proper cover for the risks identified;
(b) the actions you propose to take are covered by the terms and conditions of the policy; and
(c) you are compliant with any specific obligations under the policy.
You should also check your public liability insurance for the same reasons.
3. Think about communication with your staff
Have you considered a staff survey to test the mood amongst employees for a return to work and to understand what their concerns are?
Do you need to consult with staff representatives? Delaying any return to the workplace until after you have consulted employees will help flush out issues and could help prevent practical problems.
When you decide how the return to work will operate, how will you communicate what is required? Consider what information on procedures, guidance or ways of working your staff need to know and how you will communicate that information.
If things are simple it could be communicated via an email. Alternatively, FAQs published on your intranet or sent to all staff may assist. Also, consider what information and guidance needs to be displayed in the workplace.
4. How can employees raise concerns either before a return to the workplace or after?
Many businesses will, inevitably, have teething problems as they begin a return to the workplace. It is important that problems can be quickly identified and raised with management to mitigate any risks and create practical reasonable solutions. A system should be put in place to enable employees to raise their concerns and they should be told how to do so.
5. Keep records
It can be easy to forget with everything going on, but you should keep a written record of the risk assessment you have carried out and your thought process around all the practical measures you put in place.
Each business will face its own unique challenges in getting its workplace up and running again and dealing with the challenges the current restrictions pose. Each business will also face its own unique challenges in dealing with individual employee queries and circumstances. If you do need advice on how you should manage any of the challenges posed in lifting the lockdown on your workplace please do not hesitate to get in touch with Neil Johnston or Leanne Good in our Employment team.