Employers have a duty of care towards their employees and need to remain responsive to their specific needs.
By Danielle Ayres, Employment Partner
There’s no doubt we’ve seen a massive cultural shift in the way we work over the past two years.
The pandemic has taught many of us that we don’t necessarily need to follow the standard 9-5 model: other variations can and do work.
Whether you plan to embrace the hybrid model full-time or not, there are certain policies you must follow to ensure your office is fit for your staff to return.
What is current Government Guidance?
As of Thursday 24th February, The Government has now scrapped all Covid-19 related restrictions.
However, some staff may still be reluctant to jump straight back into office life and be wary of mixing too much. Employers need to bear this in mind, together with the guidance on working safely during Covid-19. Health and Safety Policies should be up to date and measures such as Covid-19 risk assessments and specific training can be undertaken to ensure employee safety.
What does a risk assessment involve?
A generic risk assessment is unlikely to be detailed enough to identify the specific risks brought about by COVID-19 – such as ventilation or cleaning standards.
A Covid-19 risk assessment should include:
- Recognising what activity may encourage the transmission of Covid-19;
- Identifying who is at risk – including employees, clients, visitors etc;
- Working out the likelihood of exposure and what can be done to minimise it;
- Outlining the measures needed to reduce the risk of exposure.
Employers have a duty of care towards their employees and need to remain responsive to their specific needs. It would be good to have conversations with staff about how they feel about returning to work, how safe they feel in the workplace and any changes they’d like to see. Staff surveys are a good way to do this and staff can remain anonymous, and employers will hopefully get honest and open feedback which they can act upon.
Take a look at the government guidance for more information.
Should employees wear a face covering?
There is no longer a legal requirement to wear a face covering in the workplace.
It is therefore up to the employees’ discretion as to whether they’d like to wear one – there are no enforceable Government policies.
This may need to be managed internally, with staff who do not agree or chose not to wear a face covering respecting those that do.
What if an employee tests positive for Covid-19?
Whilst the restrictions have now been lifted, policies within your workplace can highlight how you want to deal with any cases of COVID-19.
Make sure any Sickness Procedures are followed by staff, since it is likely that many may still be off sick in the coming weeks/months
These may need to be amended or a separate policy drafted to deal with COVID-19 specifically. For example, if an employee tests positive for Covid-19 you may still say that they work from home for a specified period, rather than come into the office. You may also want to work out if anyone else in the office is a close contact, and the measures to take with anyone identified.
For more information, visit the government’s website.
Can employees work from home?
While many offices are embracing the new hybrid working model, some may opt to return to their position prior to the pandemic.
All employees have the right to make a flexible working request, after 26 weeks of continuous employment, and therefore even if you chose that everyone needs to be back in the workplace these requests can be made and must be properly considered and dealt with in a reasonable manner (and within 3 months of the original request being made).
If employers are going to reject the request, they must clearly outline all their reasons why to avoid being liable to any appeals or unfair discrimination cases.
After years of turbulence in the workplace, it can be often confusing and challenging to navigate the new rules and procedures. Don’t hesitate to get in contact with me if you need any advice or support: Danielle.Ayres@primaslaw.co.uk