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Essential Webinar Series for Employers: Re-opening your workplace

As part of our series of webinars to support our clients during the current pandemic, on 11 June 2020 we hosted a webinar looking at the employment issues arising out of re-opening workplaces.

Introduction

Whilst the COVID-19 crisis is ongoing, businesses are now beginning to re-open workplaces and think about their needs both on a short, medium and longer term basis.

In anticipation of this and in order to continue supporting our clients during this difficult time, we are running a series of webinars to offer practical advice for those now contemplating the next phase of managing their businesses during the current situation.

This was our first session in this series and focused on the employment issues arising out of the re-opening of workplaces. The key takeaway points are set out below:

Risk assessments and implementing safe systems of work

  • Follow government advice on when it is appropriate to re-open.
  • Anyone that can should remain working from home at present.
  • For organisations that are open or are looking to open, health and safety will be key.
  • Requirement to carry out a risk assessment in consultation with employees or their representatives, to implement measures to reduce identified risks and to keep under review.
  • General government guidance sets out 5 steps to working safely:
    • Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment;
    • Develop cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures;
    • Help people to continue working from home where possible;
    • Implement 2 metre social distancing in the workplace;
    • Where social distancing is not possible, manage the transmission risk.
  • Detailed government guidance for specific business types is available.

Testing in the workplace

  • Testing is possible to complement an overall plan to minimise the transmission risk.
  • Health information will be special categories information under the GDPR. Businesses will need to carry out a Data Protection Impact Assessment prior to implementing testing and will need to adhere to the data protection principles.
  • The ICO has published detailed guidance on carrying out testing in the workplace.
  • The NHS are putting a Test and Trace service in place and employers are asked to support employees who have been told to self-isolate via the service.
  • The government has prepared guidance for employers on the Test and Trace service.
  • From 8 June, individuals returning from overseas are required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Handing different employees reactions to the prospect of returning

  • When asking employees to return, employers should follow any previously agreed process or, if there is no such process, reasonable notice should given.
  • When selecting employees to return, ensure that fair and non-discriminatory criteria are used.
  • If an employee refuses to return to work without good reason, this could be an unreasonable refusal to follow a management instruction leading to disciplinary action.
  • However, special consideration needs to be given to those employees who are vulnerable, shielding, have childcare issues or are pregnant.

The future for homeworking

  • Employers may well see an increase in flexible working requests from employees wanting to work from home on a permanent basis.
  • Employers can refuse such requests where one of the 8 business reasons applies, but these may be harder to demonstrate now that homeworking has become the norm.
  • Employers may wish to increase homeworking in order to reduce office overheads. Setting employees up as homeworkers requires careful consideration.

We will be running a separate session on homeworking to look at this area in more detail.

Disclaimer

This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.

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