Employment Law expert, Paul McAleavey gives his five top tips to help businesses prepare their workplace for staff returning post lockdown.
1. Carry out a risk assessment
Quite simply, this means writing down what you envisage a safe system of work looking like in your particular workplace. Consult your staff on this – invite their views. They do the work on a day to day basis and may well have better and more innovative ideas than you do. Consulting the staff also has the benefit of minimising the prospect of employee disquiet on the measures taken in their workplace, if they have had the chance to comment on the plans you put in place to manage risk. Remember that employees have rights to leave the workplace if they reasonably believe they are in a position of “serious and imminent danger”. They are protected from being treated badly if they do so. The prospect of an employee relying on such a right is greatly reduced if they have had a chance to influence the new health and safety measures in their own workplace.
2. Be creative
Consult the government guidance. The government has published guidance packs for specific types of workplace. These suggest the now well known steps of screens, greater space between workstations, cleaning of increased frequency and intensity and the provision of hand washing and sanitising stations. Don’t be afraid to think outside of these and consider how your particular workplace will operate. Think about the “outlying” issues – what will you do with your first aiders? Will they still be encouraged to treat colleagues who fall ill in the usual way, or do you need to refresh their first aid skills so they’re well equipped to deliver first aid in the “new normal”. Think about “pinch points”. How will you minimise risk arising from high-frequency contact areas such as buttons on lifts and printer screens? Will you give employees “stylus” type pens to avoid the risk of contamination? Think about the indirect consequences of your new measures. In encouraging more home working or fewer employee journeys around your office, how will you help employees who are, consequently, sitting at their desks for hours on end without a break, or suffering from the mental health impact of prolonged periods of working from home? Check in with your employees regularly to see how they are adapting to the new rules and working processes.
3. Communicate, publicise and implement
Your risk assessment must be committed to writing if you have more than 5 employees and the results of it must be published on your website if you have more than 50. Think about how you will get your staff to comply with your workplace measures. Communicate with them – you’ll need a mix of training, monitoring, instructing of staff via noticeboards and email. Will you have an all staff webinar to inform them of the new health and safety measures you are implementing in the workplace? Ensure you don’t forget about staff who remain on furlough leave. Monitor your employees’ compliance with the new rules. Use incentives, and, subject to the specific facts of each case, use discipline if employees aren’t following the new rules. Don’t forget that employers have vicarious liability for most of what their employees do, and if you face a reckless employee who behaves irresponsibly, flouts your new rules and causes risks to their colleagues, you could be “on the hook” legally for their reckless actions. Additionally, a downloadable notice is included in the government guidance, which employers should display in their workplaces. Make clear to your visitors and your employees that if they have symptoms, including the relatively recently-discovered one of a loss of taste or smell – that they must not come into your premises and should go to an NHS test and trace centre.
4. Remember GDPR
Even in these unprecedented days of dealing with a global pandemic, the requirements of the GDPR still bite on employers. Inevitably, in preparing your workplace for your employees returning, you’ll be handling more data about people’s health and medical background than ever before. Recording someone’s temperature and symptoms is a special category of personal data under the GDPR and you need the basic grounds for processing that data. Examine and document your reason for processing this data and check whether your privacy notices and data protection policies need to be updated. Remember that the GDPR requires proportionality. Do you need to take employee’s temperatures? Is there a less intrusive way of you achieving your aim, such as requiring employees to self-report?
5. Don't forget 1st August changes
The government has announced that from this date there will be discretion for employers with offices to direct staff working from home to return to the workplace. Before doing so, consider each employee’s individual circumstances. Is it essential they return? Will it be agreed? Is it safe? The latter involves considering matters as varied as, the size of the workplace (which dictates whether social distancing can still be observed), whether the employee has caring responsibilities and whether they depend on public transport for their commute. Also, employees who are clinically extremely vulnerable have been told by the government they can return to work from 1 August, but this is only if their roles can’t be done from home. If they return, their workplaces must be COVID-secure, they should be given the safest possible role you have for them and ideally be allowed to maintain at least a 2m distance from colleagues. Specific risk assessments should be done before requiring any such employee to return to the office.