As the UK Coronavirus lockdown begins to lift, with pubs being allowed to open tomorrow (4th July), SME owners will be conscious of the need to ensure the health and safety of their employers as well as customers.
The risk of future regulatory enforcement action and/or personal injury claims will be praying heavily on the minds of many owners and directors.
To assist employers, the Government has released official guidance for returning to the workplace. Guidance for specific sectors including construction, factories and warehouses, labs and research facilities and offices have also been made available.
One of the most significant and helpful developments in the process of returning to work is the extension of the furlough scheme. This has been done on a staggered basis, to give employers time to come up with the policies and procedures required to operate whilst Covid-19 remains a threat.
Advice on the extension of the furlough scheme can be seen here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/flexible-furlough-scheme-starts-today
The CIPD has also released guidance to help employers with returning to work. It urges businesses to ask the following questions before reopening their workplaces.
Is reopening essential?
Do homeworking employees need to return to the office? If they can continue working from home, can they continue to safely and productively do so?
Is the workplace safe?
You have a duty of care to ensure all your employees are safe and experience no risk to their health whilst at work. A comprehensive risk assessment plan should undertaken (make sure you keep a written document in case of a future investigation). Health and safety policies and procedures should then be created to mitigate any identified risks. For example, in the case of a restaurant, seating’s may need to be staggered to ensure customers and staff can remain apart due to necessary guidelines.
Have you had a conversation with your staff?
You may have staff who are scared and anxious about returning to work, especially if they have to take public transport. It may be that starting and finishing times need to be staggered to accommodate concerns. Your employees’ mental health is as important as their physical well being; therefore, ensure concerns are listened to and make support available if someone is struggling with anxiety, stress, depression etc.
Covid-19 could be around for a significant amount of time; therefore, getting the right health and safety policies and procedures in place before reopening and ensuring full compliance with regulations, will protect you and your business against future regulatory investigations and/or civil claims.
If unsure, you should seek expert advice from an employment solicitor. Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.