The guidance states that, if a worker cannot work from home, they should
travel to their workplace (if it is open) in sectors like food production,
construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific
research in laboratories. Employers should plan for the minimum number of
people needed to be on site to operate safely and effectively.
Hospitality businesses must remain closed, although non-essential retail
businesses can open from June 15.
This means following the up-to-date Government and public health guidance
to employers e.g. practising social distancing and ensuring communal areas,
like kitchens, are used by only one person at a time.
Before employees return to work, employers should carry out a
COVID19-specific risk assessment geared to the needs of their business and
consult with staff (and trade unions or employee representatives, if
applicable). Risk assessments must be clearly communicated to staff.
Employers with over 50 employees should publish the results of their risk
assessments on their website.
The Health and Safety Executive has produced advice on working safely
during the coronavirus outbreak and on communicating these measures to the
3. Develop cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures
Employers should increase the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning
in the workplace by:
· Encouraging frequent and thorough handwashing, reinforced by signage and
clear notices reminding employees how to do this effectively;
· Providing hand sanitisers around the workplace and at entry and exit
· Cleaning workplaces more frequently, paying close attention to
high-contact objects and surfaces like door handles and keyboards; and
· Providing hand drying facilities, either paper towels or electrical
4. Maintain 2m social distancing, where possible
Where possible, employers should maintain a distance of two metres between
people at all times by:
· putting up signs to remind workers and visitors of social distancing
· avoiding sharing workstations;
· using floor tape or paint to mark areas to help people keep to a 2m
· staggering employees’ start and finish times.
5. Manage transmission risk
Where employers cannot keep people two metres apart, they should manage
transmission risk. Mitigating actions might include:
· Staggering working times or days;
· Increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning;
· Using screens to separate people from each other;
· Using back-to-back, rather than face-to-face, working;
· Ensuring communal areas such as toilets and kitchens are limited to use
by one person at a time; and
· Ensuring meetings are held remotely and not in person so as to avoid
being in close confines with others and to avoid unnecessary travel.
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) will be doing spot checks to ensure
that workplaces are safe for staff. If a spot check is done and a workplace
is not safe, and the employer cannot say that they have taken reasonable
action, then the HSE can issue a sanction. Enforcement measures against the
employer could range from specifically advising them on measures they
should take to imposing enforcement notices.
What if an employee refuses to return to work because of
The Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention (Furlough) Scheme has been
extended until the end of October and will continue in its current form
until 31 July.
From 1 August, however, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has said that the
Government will ask companies to "start sharing" the cost of the scheme.
The scheme will also operate with greater flexibility by, for instance,
enabling employers to bring furloughed employees back on a part time basis.
Full details of how the scheme will work from August onwards are expected
The gradual lifting of the UK’s lockdown measures will bring challenges for
employers, including changes to job roles or terms and conditions of
employment, but the most immediate concern for employers is likely to be
dealing with employees who do not want to come back to work because they
are worried about coronavirus or feel that the employer’s adaptations to
the workplace do not go far enough to protect their health and safety.
Employers have a legal obligation to take all reasonably practicable steps
to ensure the health safety and welfare of all their workers. All
return-to-work plans and COVID-19 risk assessments must take account of
this and put safeguards in place that take account of the specific
circumstances that apply in the workplace.
Employees are required to obey an employer’s ‘reasonable instructions’ and
this is likely to include the employee returning to work if the work cannot
be done from home and the employer has put in place safe working practices
in line with current government guidance.
However, under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees are
protected against detriment and dismissal when they have a reasonable
belief of ‘serious or imminent danger’ to their health and others around
them. In these circumstances, they can refuse to return to their workplace
or carry out certain tasks. Given the potentially deadly nature of
coronavirus, an employee could certainly claim that there are actual
circumstances of danger, but the employee must also reasonably believe that
there is a ‘serious and imminent’ danger. The employer’s COVID19-specific
risk assessments will play a crucial role here in showing that the employer
has taken a reasonable approach to mitigating risk.
It is uncertain how refusals to work under Section 44 will be treated in
future employment tribunals, but employers need to proceed with care in
order to avoid potential claims, seeking to consult and compromise rather
than rushing to discipline an employee for unauthorised absence. Particular
care should be taken when consulting with pregnant workers and those with
underlying health conditions.
More content will be added to the
Covid-19 and Employment
Documents Group over the next few weeks, to help employers manage the
transition back to work.