The lifting of COVID restrictions today, Monday 19th July, newly named “Freedom Day” is both exciting and a cause for concern among many. Lots of businesses will benefit from the public’s confidence to venture out more seeing hospitality and retail usage increase, however from a business perspective, there is the question of getting employees back to work now the “work from home” guidance has also been lifted.
Currently COVID-19 is still a RIDDOR reportable illness, and if you have an outbreak at work, this will likely attract the attention of Health & Safety Executive (HSE) who are still very much carrying out spot checks. If you have a risk assessment in place and are taking action to ensure the workplace is COVID-19 Secure, you may be given guidance on any further steps you need to take but if you don’t have anything in place this could well lead to enforcement action and a fine.
Employers still have a duty of care under the Health & Safety at Work Act to ensure the safety of their employees, contractors and public whilst on their premises, and although restrictions have been lifted, maintaining these in the workplace is advised.
So how do we bring employees back safely?
It is unlikely that workplaces will expect all employees to return to work straight away, but there may be anxiety among employees around returning. Considering a staged return to the office or flexibility around working hours to avoid heavy traffic commuting times would be a good solution to reducing anxiety around large crowds.
Another option is to trial hybrid working, where employees can work at home some of the time, and at the office other days during the week, however you do not have to consider this unless a formal flexible working request has been entered. If you believe performance and/or productivity has suffered due to working from home or the business cannot support this request, then you may choose to refuse.
There is no government guidance on how employers should handle the wearing of facemasks within the workplace, however in order to comply with your own company safety, you may choose to continue to adopt this, or make the decision a personal responsibility on each individual. For employees that are customer facing, you may choose to continue doing so to protect both employees and members of the public.
As a minimum, regularly reviewing your COVID-19 Risk Assessment to ensure it is still relevant and compliant is strongly advised as this will support your decisions on social distancing, the wearing of face masks and any continuance or relaxing of company safety procedures.
Maintaining social distancing where possible and continuing to encourage good hygiene practices, such as providing hand sanitisers and regularly washing hands, maintaining safety screens and educating employees on the symptoms are each solutions to increase the feeling of safety within the workplace.
If you aren’t confident about what you can and can’t implement, or need a COVID-19 Risk Assessment, we can help.