Note: This guidance only applies in England – people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should follow the specific rules in those parts of the UK.
New guidance by the UK government has led to a slight easing of the coronavirus lockdown that came into effect on 23 March. The new rules state that individuals must:
- stay at home as much as possible
- work from home if they can
- limit contact with other people
- keep their distance if they go out (2 metres apart where possible)
- wash their hands regularly
- stay at home if they or anyone in their household has symptoms
Go here for more in-depth government guidance on what the rules mean, and what we can and cannot do: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do
Returning to Work
According to government guidelines, businesses and workplaces should make every possible effort to enable their employees to work from home as a first option. However, where working from home is not possible, workplaces should make every effort to comply with the social distancing guidelines set out by the government. Employers may understandably have concerns about how to do this safely.
There’s a lot to consider: how will social distancing be managed? What about cleaning and hygiene in the office? What happens to those staff that fall into the vulnerable or extremely vulnerable categories?
As an employer, you must protect staff and visitors from harm. This includes taking reasonable steps to protect them from coronavirus. This is called a risk assessment and it will help you manage risk and protect people.
If you have fewer than five employees, you do not have to write anything down, but it might be helpful to do so. In fact, it will go a long way in allaying any fears your staff may have about returning. It is good practice for employers to keep staff updated on all that the business is doing to reduce the risk of exposure in the workplace.
Just a few things employers should think about:
- Identify everyone in the business who can work from home – if they can, they should
- Where it is not possible to work from home, the guidance on social distancing and hygiene (handwashing with soap and water often, for at least 20 seconds) should be followed
- Identify employees who can travel alone in their own transport (or walk, or cycle if it is safe to do so) when getting to and from work to maintain social distancing
- Identify the minimum number of people needed to carry out work tasks safely
- Make sure staff contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
- Put in place effective cleaning measures, paying attention to communal areas, door handles, telephones etc.
- Provide soap and hand sanitiser
- Physically arrange work areas to keep people 2m apart
- Mark areas using floor paint or tape to help people keep a 2m distance
- Avoid having people working face-to-face, or side-by-side
- Stagger arrival and departure times so people can keep a 2m distance when entering and exiting the building
Employees that fall into vulnerable or extremely categories should be supported to follow government recommendations on social distancing and shielding respectively.
Any employee who is unwell with symptoms of coronavirus (a new, continuous cough and/or a high temperature) should be reminded not to travel to or attend the workplace.
If an employee becomes unwell in the workplace with coronavirus symptoms, they should be sent home and advised to follow the government’s ‘stay at home’ guidance.
Remember that employees may be anxious about returning to the office and wary of contracting the virus. Communication is important and employers should aim to keep in regular contact and answer any questions or concerns. Employers should ensure that staff are appropriately supported at this time.
Please bear in mind that the information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice. Go here: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus for the latest government guidance on coronavirus.