On Sunday, Boris Johnson announced that the UK would take ‘baby steps’ to reduce lockdown and to get businesses up and running again.
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Although the message remains that anyone who can work from home should continue to do so, he announced that those that cannot do so should be actively encouraged to go to work.
This means that businesses in construction, manufacturing, engineering and a number of other areas can start work again, but they must ensure that they are ‘COVID Secure’.
What does ‘COVID Secure’ mean’?
Businesses are responsible for ensuring that their places of work are safe.
Prior to returning to work, all businesses will be required to complete a COVID-19 risk assessment. Templates are available from the HSE (Health & Safety Executive) website. For businesses with over 50 employees, it is expected that, where possible, this is published on their website. There is also a certificate/poster which can be downloaded and displayed to confirm your compliance with guidance. The HSE will be carrying out random inspections, so it is vitally important to take these guidelines seriously. Employees will also be able to report any unsafe conditions.
The government has published guidance for employers in 8 specific workplace settings to help you to get your business back up and running safely. These can be found on the government website and are incredibly detailed.
As a summary, the main points to consider are:
- Travel to Work - Public transport should be avoided where possible. Employees are encouraged to drive, walk or cycle. Where this is not possible, face coverings should be worn, and individuals should keep 2m apart.
- Adhere to Social Distancing Rules in the Workplace – this may mean that you will have to consider some of the following:
- Re-designing the work place so that, wherever possible, individuals are always 2m apart. This includes work areas; rest areas; toilets and walk ways. Where not possible, you should manage the transmission risk.
- Staggered start and finish times – perhaps consider whether shifts are appropriate.
- Consider ‘fixed teams’ to reduce contact with different people.
- Build in one-way systems.
- Increase number of entrances and exits.
- Sit people back to back.
- Introduce screens (above head height to be affective).
- Restrict meetings and visitors – use video conferencing as an alternative.
- Increased Hygiene:
- Provide hand sanitisers/face coverings.
- Encourage regular handwashing.
- Increased cleaning of workplace, paying close attention to high-contact objects.
- Ask employees to bring in their own food, drink and utensils.
- Consider the Psychological Impact – many employees may be anxious and nervous about returning to work and so it is vital to ensure that you listen to their worries and communicate your dedication to ensuring their safety at work.
What if some of my employees cannot come back to work as they have children to look after?
The government has acknowledged that this is an obvious barrier to an employee being able to come back to work and has advised employers to be ‘understanding’.
If your employee is currently on furlough, then consider keeping them on the scheme. Alternatively, you could consider flexible working arrangements.
What if some of my employees cannot come back to work as they are vulnerable and are shielding?
Those in the clinically extremely vulnerable cohort will continue to be advised to shield themselves for some time yet and the Government will continue to monitor this.
How do I get my employees off furlough?
There is no specific notice required to take someone off furlough. However, it would be reasonable to give them as much notice as possible, so that they can organise their personal affairs.
Also, be mindful, that in order to claim under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, an employee needs to have been on furlough for a 3-week period. This may have an impact on your chosen return to work date.
Once a date for return has been agreed, confirm this in writing.
Is there an update on the furlough scheme?
Following an announcement by the Chancellor today, it has been confirmed that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended by 4 months until the end of Oct 2020. The scheme rules currently in place are applicable until the end of July. From Aug to Oct there will be greater flexibility, further details to follow.