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How can employers ensure the transition from working from home to working in the workplace is as smooth as possible? Our employment law experts explain

Everything an employer needs to know about returning to the workplace

How can employers ensure the transition from working from home to working in the workplace is as smooth as possible? Our employment law experts explain. 

The slowing of the spread of COVID-19 in recent weeks has led many UK businesses to sharpen their focus in relation to returning to the workplace after nearly half a year of restrictions. It is likely many will take a phased approach to the change, as different employers in various industries may have different needs and requirements.

Each employer will need to consider numerous aspects of returning to the workplace, including timescales, risk assessments, flexible working, potential liabilities, and retraining. Here, we discuss some of the key questions you and your business may have when thinking about bringing your employees back into the office.

How can employers prepare for the reopening of offices?

There are a few steps employers can take to ensure the smooth transition back into the office. While each company will be different, all companies will need to consider the below.

COVID-19 Risk Assessments 

Carrying out a COVID-19 risk assessment is a good place to start for every business. Employers must take every reasonable step to protect their workers and others from coronavirus. In order to do this, employers must:

  • Identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of the virus

  • Consider who might be most at risk

  • Decide how likely exposure to the virus is

  • Take steps to remove the activity or situation, or if this is not possible, minimise the risk

The Government has provided resources in relation to working safely during coronavirus which covers most industries.

Social distancing measures

As part of the COVID-19 risk assessment, employers should begin to think about how they will implement social distancing measures in the workplace. Social distancing is a policy which has been ever-present throughout the pandemic, and it is not likely to go away anytime soon. 

Employers need to update company policies and convey the new rules to employees. We would also suggest giving employees the opportunity to discuss these new rules and an outlet to provide feedback. 

Staggering work times and return to work

The Government has made it clear that it wishes to decrease the use of public transport. In order to do this, employers might begin to consider alternatives to the usual 9am-5pm workday and start to stagger office working hours. This can greatly reduce the use of rush hour trains, buses, elevators, and lifts. 

Companies should think about both flexible working hours and flexible working days. Staff could work three days on, two days off, for example. It is also hoped that flexible working may increase productivity, with many being more productive in the morning and others in the evening. 

This method of working may actually be a positive for both employees and employers alike, with the potential to see an increase in the volume of work produced, a more content work force, and the possibility for staff to cover a longer period of the day to carry out business activities.

An increase in office cleaning

Increasing daily cleaning in the workplace will not only be useful for eliminating any risk of the virus, it can also help with employee morale. Ensuring all workplaces are wiped down morning and evening and that there are plenty of hand sanitiszing stations can help employees with their confidence that the workplace is safe.

Again, providing a forum of some sort for employees to let employers know of their concerns will be vital for the transition. 

Do employers have to provide PPE?

The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 states:

Every employer shall ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to their employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health or safety while at work except where and to the extent that such risk has been adequately controlled by other means which are equally or more effective.

However, COVID-19 has somewhat blurred the lines of what is normally considered “a risk”. The pandemic means that some employers will now have to consider the provision of PPE in a workplace where PPE would not have always been needed.

Employers have a duty to provide their employee with a safe workplace, and suitable equipment to work with. It will be down to the employer to interpret this, as each company will have different working conditions. The key point for employers is doing what is “reasonably practical”. 

We also would warn employers that the HSE will be performing random spot checks to ensure companies are adhering to the Government guidance.

Can I punish employees for not adhering to social distancing measures in the workplace?

Before returning to the workplace, employers must introduce clear COVID-19 policies to their employees, including social distancing measures, which must be adhered to at all times. 

If these policies are agreed and understood by the employee and there is a breach, they can be dismissed for a serious breach of health and safety, as well as a breach of contract.

Are employers liable if an employee catches coronavirus at work?

An employer is liable if it can be proven that their employee contracted coronavirus from the workplace. This means that the employee must prove, with medical evidence, that is was highly likely they caught the virus while at work, and not, for example, on public transport or in a shop.

If the employee can show that they caught the virus within the workplace, they could bring a personal injury claim against their employer. 

Can furloughed employees refuse to return to the office?

We have written a full guide for employers in relation to returning to work after being furloughed, You can read this guide here.

How Percy Hughes & Roberts can help?

Business owners are facing a number of tough questions from employees as the UK begins to return to the office. In the first instance, we would advise employers to take a practical approach, communicating to employees as much as possible, and doing everything in their power to ensure the safe working of their workforce.

At Percy Hughes & Roberts, we boast years of experience and promise a confidential, friendly, and honest approach to all issues within the employment law field. 

If you have any questions regarding any issue surrounding this area, you can get in touch with us for expert advice. Get in touch with our Wirral Employment Law Lawyer today by calling 0151 666 9090 or by completing the “Get in touch” form on this site.

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