The government announced last week that their position on working from home had changed due to an increase in the spread of the virus. The current guidance therefore encourages people to work from home, where they can.
Many businesses had already taken the decision to remain working from home, so for some this new guidance will not see much of an impact to the way in which people are actually working. But this is not the case for all.
When the work from home message was first issued by government back in March, this applied to all but “essential” businesses. But now, despite an increase again in restrictions, of course some workplaces, pubs, restaurants, gyms, salons and others within retail/leisure are now open. This means that there will be significantly more people who are actively working (not furloughed), who are unable to work from home, despite the updated guidance.
We will all, by now, be familiar with many of the types of protections which businesses are putting in place for their employees to ensure their workplaces are “covid secure”. It is vital, for example, that businesses carry out appropriate risk assessments for those employees who are required to attend their place of work (as well as for customers etc.), to ensure that the risks are adequately managed and that all reasonably practicable steps are taken to protect health and safety.
A return to remote working also has other health and wellbeing impacts for your people so be alert and sensitive to your workforce and the pressures and anxieties they are experiencing at this uncertain time and also as our seasons shift to Autumn and Winter.
There is also specific guidance from the English and devolved governments relating to certain businesses and sectors as well as guidance from the Health and Safety Executive so stay up to date and ensure there is clear communication and expectation setting for your people. And remember, these new covid rules have teeth – for example, in leisure and entertainment venues or those who provide “close contact” services, employers face fines of up to £10,000 for repeated breaches of Covid-secure arrangements.
Self Isolating - New Regulations (England only)
New rules have come into force in England this week under the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulation 2020. These regulations cover many obligations which individuals have to comply with, including periods of self-isolation and certain notification requirements.
Importantly for businesses, there is now a requirement for all employees (and agency workers) to notify their employer if they are required to self-isolate for any period which they are due to work. This includes those who have tested positive or live in the same household as someone who has tested positive.
Once the employer is aware of the employee’s (or agency worker’s) requirement to self-isolate, it will be an offence for the employer to “knowingly allow” the individual to attend any place other than where they are self-isolating. Any employer in breach of this may face fines starting at £1,000. The employee (or agency worker) may also face a fine starting at £1,000 if they fail to inform the business that they are required to self-isolate.
In certain employment settings, for example retail, leisure and hospitality or in close contact settings – employees and workers will be required to wear a face covering. Businesses need to be alert to and balance these requirements against those who have a legitimate reason for not being able to wear a face covering, particularly, if those who cannot wear a face covering have a condition which would fall within the definitions of disability under the Equality Act 2010.
Interestingly, if an employee or worker refuses to wear a face covering they (not the employer) could face a fine starting at £200. It may also be a disciplinary offence if the employer’s rules on face coverings are breached so do ensure that health and safety policies and rules are specifically communicated to staff and training is offered. Also, check the specific sector guidance.
But this is not just about following Covid-19 rules. Employers also have to think about their wider health and safety obligations in whatever sector they operate. Even if the rules on face coverings (or others) do not apply to your business, again it is important to remember the overarching obligation to protect their staff or customers under existing legislation.
What should we be doing now?
Throughout the pandemic, the important thing has been to risk assess work places and ensure that employees are supported.
For those businesses where employees are required to attend work, this is more important now than ever, with cases on the rise. It is important that employees feel safe and protected when the attend work. If this is achieved early, it may avoid issues later on.
Where employees have concerns about returning to the work place, or continuing to attend work, these concerns should be discussed with the employees, including what measures are in place to address those concerns.
Equally, with those employees who are working from home, health and safety considerations will need to be taken to ensure that these employees have everything they need to work safely and effectively, whilst also addressing staff wellbeing more generally.
In relation to the new regulations, businesses should ensure that employees are aware of their obligation to tell them if they or someone in their household is required to self-isolate. Clear records should be kept of employees who are required to self-isolate, including the date they notify you and the dates when they should not be permitted to attend work or carry out any work outside of the place they are isolating.
For more information about health and safety obligations and advice, please contact the Employment Group at [email protected].
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.