Working From Home and/or Managing the Risks in the Workplace
On Tuesday 4 January, Boris Johnson announced that “Plan B” rules would remain in place. This means the current guidance is such that employees should work from home where they are able to (this has been the guidance since 13 December 2021 in response to the Omicron variant).
Work from home guidance has been in (and out of) place for almost two years now so it has become somewhat the norm to see remote working and hybrid working arrangements in place; however, it is useful to continually review the arrangements, the safety of the staff, and the implications. Further, more detailed, information about hybrid working can be found here: Hybrid Working • DC Employment Solicitors.
Of course, it is simply not possible to work from home in all industries and/or for some roles it just is not practicable. It is therefore vital that, in these circumstances, the employer is managing and mitigating the risks in the workplace wherever possible. The Government updated its non-statutory guidance on this point in December 2021 which can be found here: Working safely during Coronavirus Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) – Guidance – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).
There are six priority actions that apply equally across all workplace settings. These are as follows:
- Complete a COVID-19 risk assessment – identify the risks and the control measures that can be put in place to manage those risks and keep staff updated with the findings.
- Provide adequate ventilation – ensure there is fresh air to enclosed spaces where staff are present, this can be natural or mechanical.
- Clean more often – increase how often surfaces and workspaces are cleaned, especially if used by more than one employee. Make hand sanitiser readily available.
- Turn away people with COVID-19 symptoms (visitors, employees, customers etc).
- Enable people to check in at your venue – there is no longer a legal requirement to obtain customer details but doing so will support NHS Test and Trace.
- Communicate and train staff on up-to-date safety measures in place on the premises/site.
(this is non-statutory guidance but likely to be considered best practice)
There are also further guidelines (available via the Government site) for the following specific workplace settings:
- Offices, factories and laboratories
- Shops, branches and close contact services
- Events and attractions
- Construction and outdoor work
- Restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services
- Hotels and guest accommodation
Vitally, employers must ensure that employees do not come to work where, under existing Government guidance, they are required to stay at home. This includes anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19, has tested positive, and anyone who is requested to self. If it is not possible for the employee to work at home, they should be treated as incapable of work for statutory sick pay (SSP) purposes. It is worth noting here that an individual can be fined (up to £10,000) if they do not stay at home and self-isolate when they have been instructed to do so by NHS Test and Trace (there are now exemptions to this, for example, where an individual is fully vaccinated).
If employees were previously categorised as clinically extremely vulnerable (this is phrase is no longer being used following the end of the shielding programme in England), employers should talk with them as early as possible about how they will return to the workplace, any concerns they might have and any adjustments that could be made to assist them. This is where flexible arrangements and hybrid working [LINK TERM TO ARTICLE] could/should be utilised where practicable.
A doctor may still in fact advise that an individual, categorised as high risk, stays at home. The employer will have to deal with each individual dependant on the circumstances, bearing in mind their duty not to discriminate (and potentially make adjustments), the sickness absence policy and sick pay rules. Open communication with the employee will be the most amicable way of resolving such a situation to suit both parties.
Some other useful points to consider are as follows:
- Reduce contact for workers – ensure that social contact is set to a minimum. This could include reviewing office/workplace layouts and/or grouping employees that they are able to have social contact with
- Workforce management – as part of the risk assessment mentioned above, ensure there is a plan in place to deal with a potential outbreak amongst staff.
- Reduce risk of customers and visitors – provide clear guidance and signage to ensure their safety, make face coverings mandatory and provide adequate training for the staff required to host visitors.
- Keep work travel to minimum – if employees are required to travel together consider assigning groups or pairs for travel (i.e. introduce fixed travel partners).
- Encourage regular testing wherever possible – request that employees take lateral flow tests twice a week for example, if they are required to work on site
This is a very brief overview of steps that can be taken where working from home isn’t possible. Where it is possible, we refer you to read our hybrid working article (although, at the moment, it may be the full-time remote working is more likely). If you are currently looking for advice on how you can best apply the above in your workplace, please contact us and we’d be happy to discuss further.