Return to the workplace

There have been a dizzying number of requirements and restrictions placed on employers during the last 12 months to try to manage the Covid situation. From 19 July 2021, England moved to step 4 of the government's 'roadmap'. Many had thought that this would mean the end to all restrictions but there are still a large number of issues for employers to be aware of and manage. Employers will have to balance the competing interests of opening up their businesses, whilst protecting their employees and customers for many months to come.

From step 4, legal restrictions have been lifted, all businesses can open and the government is no longer instructing people to work from home. The 'working safely' guidance continues to provide advice from the government on sensible precautions that employers can take to manage risk.

Businesses still have a legal duty to manage risks to those affected by their businesses. The way to do this is to carry out a health and safety risk assessment, including the risks of Covid 19 and to take reasonable steps to mitigate the risks identified. Businesses should use the guidance to consider the risks within their premises and decide what steps must be taken.

In outline, the key changes at step 4 are as follows:

  • social distancing guidance no longer applies. This means that it is not necessary to implement social distancing in a business, workplace or venue and customers and workers do not need to keep apart from people they do not live with

  • the government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can, so employers can start to plan a return to the workplace. However, as the Covid rates are currently still quite high, the government 'expects and recommends' a gradual return to the workplace over summer.  Employers should discuss the timing and phasing of a return with their workers

  • employers must continue to follow statutory health and safety requirements, conduct a risk assessment and take reasonable steps to manage risks in the workplace as set out in the government guidance

The government has made it clear that it will continue to keep its guidance under review. There is different advice for employers in different sectors, for example, those in shops, hotels, offices, factories, and restaurants. Employers must ensure that they follow government guidance and take reasonable steps at all times. A failure to do so could lead to a claim from an employee or a visitor to the premises.  Employers should consider taking legal advice from a specialist to ensure that they continue to meet their obligations.

To discuss this or any other employment related matter, please contact us.

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