Over the last few weeks, we have seen the lockdown restrictions eased in the UK and some people have been encouraged to go back to work. However, questions still remain regarding health and safety and the actions that employers must take to prepare for a post-lockdown workplace.
Below we discuss what employees and employers can do when returning to work.
Returning to work as an employee
In May Boris Johnson said that it is understandable if you do not feel ready to return to the workplace if there is an obvious barrier that prevents you from getting back to work and puts your health at risk. Here are just a few ideas to think about when deciding whether to return:
Susceptibility to infection
If you feel that you are at high-risk of contracting the virus, the government has advised you to stay at home for 12 weeks, starting the 23rd March.
Being forced to return to work
If you (1) have proven that you are capable of working from home, (2) feel that your workplace has disregarded government advice on social distancing, and/or (3) believe that you are at risk of infection, the government advice overrules most employment contracts.
The Job Retention Scheme will continue to ensure that furloughed workers are paid 80% of their wages. So far, more than nine million workers have applied. However, after the scheme ends in October 2020, it is up to employers to decide what the workplace will look like, how employees are to be paid, and whether there will be redundancies.
Returning to work as an employer
Working from home is highly advisable at the moment and while the government has eased lockdown restrictions, employers must take into account certain considerations when returning to work.
The government proposed that an employer must create a safe working space by assessing the potential COVID-19 threat in the company and ensuring that the workplace dynamic follows the necessary guidelines of the government.
Whether it is closing canteens and public break rooms, staggering work start times or creating one-way walkthroughs, an employer should design the new workplace in order to maintain two-metre social distancing rules.
Risk of transmission
Social distancing can be hard to maintain, particularly in certain industries such as manufacturing or construction. The government recommends that barriers in shared spaces, workplace shift patterns, or fixed team numbers be introduced as far as possible to manage the risk of transmission.
Cleaning the workplace
Employers are advised to clean the workplace more frequently, making sure that high-contact objects are clean and risk-free, and that handwashing facilities and masks are also made available to avoid risk of infection.
The workplace after COVID-19
With the hope that lockdown measure will lessen in the near future, employers and employee should be prepared for the following:
So far, COVID-19 has forced many companies to test-drive new ways of working in isolation. After this crisis, it is possible that some companies may adopt such measures on a regular and long-term basis.
When courts begin to reopen, many employees may make certain claims relating to salary, breach of contract and any unlawful deduction of wages.
In April, jobless claims increased by 70%. When it comes to a post-coronavirus world, it is worth re-evaluating employment contracts in order to consider lay-off provisions, deduction from wage clauses or even sick pay policies for the future.
Final thoughts: Work after the lockdown
The economic consequences of COVID-19 are being felt every day and with the government’s permission, some companies are allowed to partially reopen. The gradual easing of lockdown restrictions comes with certain considerations for both the employee and employer.
We can provide legal guidance on all of these matters so please contact us with any queries.