So whether you loved it or loathed it, thought it was clear or confusing, we have now had the first signs of some easing restrictions we’ve been living and working under. This is still of course a moveable feast, and for many of you there is an element of judgement to be made about what you can and can’t do in your business.
The one key thing of importance is to keep communicating with your employees so that they know what you are doing now and what you are planning on doing. Remember that a lot of people are feeling very anxious not only about their job and income but of course about their health and well-being, so as employers we have a tricky balance to maintain. There has been quite a lot circulating on social media today about Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act – bold statements proclaiming that employers cannot “force employees to return to unsafe work environments”. As always nothing is that straightforward and it is not down to the employee to simply decide the work environment is unsafe just because there happens to be a virus that might possibly be present somehow at some point in time (as it could anywhere else). As the employer it will be your duty to follow all infection control precautions required for your work place and then to communicate with your staff what those are.
Currently there is guidance here (last updated 4 May) on distancing in various industry sectors https://www.gov.uk/guidance/social-distancing-in-the-workplace-during-coronavirus-covid-19-sector-guidance and general advice (since 7 April) here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/guidance-for-employers-and-businesses-on-coronavirus-covid-19. We are told that the new Covid19 Secure Guidelines will be available tomorrow (or maybe sometime this week) ready for employers to start talking to employees about coming back into the work place where necessary from Wednesday (just so long we’ve had that guidance which you should follow as soon as possible & you’ve got everything sorted to be able to do so). So maybe Boris did jump the gun a little bit last night when he said Monday!
We’ve now read the full 60 (51? who knows?!) page Govt document regarding easing retrictions and the key points we know so far regarding work are as follows:
- Most of us should continue to work from home wherever that is possible – so where this has been set up & is working well don’t change anything
- If you cannot work from home and your business is one of those permitted to reopen (note that non-essential retail, leisure facilities, public places such as places of worship, & hospitality are not yet permitted to open) you can and that is being encouraged – you should do so following the new Covid-19 Secure guidelines which will be published this week
- Avoid public transport if at all possible to get to work but if it must be used then social distancing guidelines should be followed and the use of face coverings (not a medical grade face mask) is recommended
- It is not required for employees to wear a face covering at work in offices for example but you should adhere to any requirements specific to your industry particularly where social distancing is more difficult or not possible https://www.gov.uk/government/news/public-advised-to-cover-faces-in-enclosed-spaces?utm_source=6c355955-120b-450a-a912-2c1e5262449c&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate
- There are no changes to the requirement to self-isolate if you or anyone in your house as symptoms – this may change with more testing becoming available
- Those who are shielding are of course advised to continue doing so
- There is as yet no change to the Furlough Scheme – A Furlough Scheme (CJRS) update is due Tuesday we believe – the Chancellor has mentioned “phasing out” but we as yet do not know what that means.We will of course update you.
- It is possible that on 1 June it may be permitted that households can meet which would allow childcare to be shared by a family group (grandparents or an aunt / uncle for example) across two household which may enable some more employees to return to work – this has been referred to as “contact bubbles” but is still only a proposal
Basically not much more than Boris said yesterday…
We have drafted a Return from Furlough Letter, a return to the workplace letter, an Infection Control PoIicy and two Risk Assessment documents (one for individuals and one summary document for the business relating to employee matters). Contact us if these would be helpful to you. For anything more detailed regarding infection control in your specific industry and workplace we advise talking to a Health and Safety Expert.
If you want to read the full 60 page Govt Document – OUR PLAN TO REBUILD: The UK Government’s Covid-19 Recovery Strategy you can find it here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/884171/FINAL_6.6637_CO_HMG_C19_Recovery_FINAL_110520_v2_WEB__1_.pdf
If you can’t face the whole thing go to page 25 for the info on work (3 paragraphs!) in the current phase / page 41 Section 8 for the info so far on Covid-19 Secure Guidelines / page 42 Section 10 for info on Furlough and other economic support / Page 49 Annex A for info about protecting yourself outside of the home which has references to work & travel within it.
The FAQs Gov webpage has some useful info – for example what to do if any employees is scared about returning to work. Although it is not hugely detailed or direct in its approach (are you surprised?!) the good thing is it is not saying employees can simply stay at home if they don’t want to come back….