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Employee health and safety in the workplace during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis

Guidelines have been issued to help employers ensure the safety of the workplace for those employees who have to return to work in response to Covid-19.

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As an employer, you’re responsible for the health and safety of your employees. You must assess and manage the risks in the workplace when your staff return to work.  This includes the risk of contracting Coronavirus.

Before asking your employees to return, you should:

  • deep clean the premises 
  • perform a health and safety assessment and/or Return to work risk assessment to determine what potential risks there are in the physical workplace
  • assess whether any adjustments need to be made before re-opening such as ventilation, guidance on maintaining personal hygiene, implement flexible workforce arrangements, and accommodate those with protected characteristics
  • update your health and safety policy to include Coronavirus-related safety measures
  • have provisions for employees (or someone in their family) that are displaying Covid-19 symptoms 
  • communicate and train all workers and contractors on how the company is updating and adopting safety measures

If you decide to call your employees back to work, consider who is needed on-site and make a plan on how they can work safely and effectively. You should limit the employees you recall to include those with roles that are critical for business and operational continuity and whose work can’t be done remotely. Care should be taken to ensure that the criteria for recall aren’t discriminatory and that asking certain individuals to return to work won’t unjustly negatively impact a particular group. 

Be aware that some workers may be clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable. Extra care should be taken to ensure the safety of such vulnerable workers and this may involve allowing them to work from home as much as possible in their current role or in an alternative role. If this isn’t viable, then you should offer them the safest available roles on site. Where this isn’t suitable, you should assess whether their role is necessary for the business and whether you can safeguard their wellbeing by making reasonable adjustments. For more information, read the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance on protecting vulnerable workers.

You must remind employees that they should self-isolate if they, or a member of their household, are experiencing symptoms of Coronavirus.

If you’re seeking to recall staff placed on furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which came to an end on 30 September 2021, make your Furlough letter for previously furloughed employees with Rocket Lawyer.

To assess the potential exposure of your employees to Coronavirus, you should consider carrying out a new Risk assessment. When considering the risk of infection, you must take into account which employees may be more vulnerable to contracting the virus (eg pregnant, elderly or with any underlying health conditions) and whether distancing can be followed in the workplace. When conducting a risk assessment you must consult your employees and a health and safety representative.

You should share the results of your risk assessment with your employees. If you have more than 50 employees, publish these results on your website. 

Lastly, you should also be mindful that if the workplace is unsafe, your employees aren’t obliged to return to work and you may be subject to disciplinary actions from the local authority or the HSE

When identifying ways to minimise the risks of transmission in the workplace, you have a duty to work closely with your employees.  

To reduce the risk of transmission, you can implement measures such as:

  • increasing the frequency of office cleaning including surfaces, work stations, door handles, keyboards and telephones
  • reminding employees of the importance of handwashing and asking employees to increase the frequency of washing their hands
  • providing hand sanitiser at entry/exit points
  • recommending employees wear face coverings
  • implementing staggered work times to prevent overcrowding when entering and exiting the workplace
  • implementing staggered work breaks to ensure communal areas are not overcrowded
  • using screens to separate staff from each other
  • changing  seating arrangements so that employees are sitting back-to-back or side-to-side rather than face-to-face
  • grouping workers to fixed teams to reduce the number of people each individual has contact with
  • encouraging employees to bring their own food and cutlery and to use their own drinking containers
  • avoiding hot-desking and where possible, clean them frequently between different users
  • conducting frequent testing (eg lateral flow testing) if it is considered necessary and proportionate and features in the risk assessment
  • requesting that staff get vaccinated (where possible)

Employees are not required to wear face coverings in offices. However, if employees choose to wear face coverings you should provide them with information on the best practices to maximise their functionality (eg washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before putting it on and after removing it). 

These measures listed are not exhaustive and you should decide what measures are reasonable for your workplace. You should take each risk on a case-by-case basis.

For more information, read the government’s guidance on working safely during Covid-19.

In England, wearing face coverings is no longer mandatory. However, the government expects and recommends that people continue to wear face coverings in crowded, enclosed spaces. Further, employers may require that staff wear face coverings where possible. Some staff may be exempt, because of a disability or health condition, if they:

  • are prevented from wearing a face covering, or

  • would find it difficult to do so

For more information, see the government’s guidance.

Employers may consider encouraging staff to be vaccinated. Currently, there is no law requiring individuals to have the Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine and even if an employer prefers staff to have it, care must be taken not to discriminate (eg as some individuals may be advised not to have the vaccine). Employers may wish to adopt an Employee vaccination policy setting out what is required. For more information, read Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccinations in the workplace.

Employers must also take care to comply with data protection requirements when recording the vaccination status of staff. For more information, read How to record the Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination status of staff.

You may wish to minimise the number of visits to your workplace by suggesting the use of remote working tools. Visitor arrangements should be reviewed to ensure Coronavirus safety measures (eg hygiene standards). It’s important to provide your employees with the necessary training on how to host visitors and explain their responsibilities. 

Where visits are necessary on-site, you should clearly explain the business’ Coronavirus safety measures to the visitors on or before their arrival. Measures can be implemented to limit the number of visitors at one time and their interaction with others by, for example, allocating specific time slots to visitors and restricting the areas they can access.

If the visit is for carrying out essential services, you may consider if it can be scheduled at a time where there would be minimal interaction and overlap between the contractor and employees. 

Employees should be trained by their employers before their return to work. You should ensure that all your employees are aware of all Coronavirus-related safety procedures and any updates or changes to the policies must be communicated to them. 

You’re also responsible for looking after your employees’ mental health. For more information, read the NHS’ guidance on looking after mental health during the pandemic.

Make your Return to work risk assessment
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Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest

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