As the first part of the phased return to work after lockdown becomes effective from today, Wednesday 13th May, I review the additional government guidance and offer points of caution for businesses on returning to work after lockdown, and as we continue to mitigate the impact the coronavirus crisis has had on businesses and the challenges many face finding a new way of working.
In my article on Sunday 10 May 2020, staying alert to the employment issues as we prepare to come out of lockdown, I raised the challenges employers face in getting the workplace ready for employees once lockdown is at least partially lifted.
In further clarification on Monday, the Prime Minister confirmed that from today (Wednesday 13th May 2020), those employees who cannot work from home and who can safely travel to work, and adhere to the social distancing rules should do so.
The Covid-19 employment updates are coming in thick and fast, yesterday the government issued guidance to assist employers in getting the workplace fit for employees to return, working safely during the Covid-19, and we have also now got the ACAS guide to working in the Covid-19 pandemic, advice for employers and employees.
These two pieces of guidance are essential reading for any employer contemplating allowing employees to return to work. The emphasis is on risk assessments and taking steps to ensure social distancing at work.
As I cautioned in my article on Sunday, employers should be very careful in the steps taken to try to encourage employees back to work and for many there continue to be concerns about the risk of contracting the coronavirus once back in the workplace. There has been widespread criticism of the government’s urging employees to return to work, without, as many see it, sufficient regard for the safety of employees or the inherent dangers in public transport in a pandemic. The trade unions have been at the forefront of those challenges and it is likely, in the writer’s view that many employees will simply refuse to return to work.
As I pointed out in my earlier article, employees who suffer a detriment because they refuse to return to work ‘in circumstances of danger’ which they reasonably believed to be ‘serious or imminent’ have an actionable claim under section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. Those circumstances will extend to transport to work (Edwards v Secretary of State for Justice  7 WLUK 909 – employees docked wages for refusing to travel to work in snowy condition); so employees will have little difficulty in the present circumstances in sustaining an argument that they held a reasonable belief they were in serious or imminent danger.
Employers are best advised to do all they can to make the place of work as safe as possible and undertake risk assessments. For those in manufacturing, for example, risk assessments are a normal part of everyday working. That is often not the case for employers used to dealing with the inherently less risky area of office work. We work closely with expert occupational health providers, skilled in risk assessments and working with them we are able to quickly assist in drawing up risk assessments.
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Steeles Law has both a very experienced Employment Law Team and a Business Consultancy and Restructuring Team of which both are highly experienced in business re-organisation and the difficulties associated with the short-term challenges to business. These teams are focused on helping businesses which are struggling in the current climate as we return to work and come out of lockdown. If we can assist in any way with the challenges that your business is facing, please do not hesitate to contact the team via on firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 01603 598000.
*The information provided in this article is designed to provide useful information on the subject, not to provide specific legal advice.