COVID-19: Keeping employees safe and healthy
Even under the most ordinary of circumstances, employers must do everything that is “reasonably practicable”to protect their employees’ health, safety and welfare while they are at work. In these unprecedented times, however, employers will have to take extra steps to ensure, as far as possible, that their employees remain safe and well while carrying out their jobs.
Observing social distancing practices
Government guidelines now stipulate that “businesses and employers should encourage their employees to work from home, wherever possible”. For some workers, such as NHS staff, supermarket workers and construction personnel, the nature of their jobs means they are still obliged to travel to their place of work.
If employers are still requiring their employees to attend work, then they should take the following extra steps to keep their workers safe:
- Enforce social distancing guidelines as far as is practicable, e.g. ensure staff remain two metres (six feet) apart at all times, ensure offices or workplaces are cleaned frequently, and consider staggering start and finish times to avoid congestion.
- Provide personal protective equipment (where appropriate) and sanitising products to staff; encourage them to wash their hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds each time.
- Relax rules concerning the need for medical evidence for employees who are unwell.
- Ensure that managers can spot the symptoms of coronavirus and have practices in place for if staff members become unwell while at work.
Protecting ‘vulnerable’ staff
All possible measures should be taken to protect employees considered ‘vulnerable’, i.e. people at higher risk of developing dangerous complications if they were to contract coronavirus. Those considered to be at higher risk include:
- Older people (aged over 70)
- People with underlying health conditions, such as lung, heart, kidney or liver disease, diabetes or a weakened immune system as a result of medicines such as steroids or chemotherapy
- Pregnant women.
Vulnerable staff may already have been directly contacted by the NHS via letter to inform them of the need to ‘shield’, i.e. to remain at home in self-isolation for at least three months. If employers do not take extra steps to support vulnerable employees, or unfairly discipline or dismiss them for not coming into work in spite of professional and government advice, they could face claims for unfair dismissal or discrimination on grounds such as disability, pregnancy or age.
Health and safety for home workers
Employers are still responsible for the health and safety of employees working from home, which has become particularly important in the present climate.
Employees should be offered support in adapting to remote working arrangements, and be given the opportunity to discuss any needs or concerns with their employer. Employers should make arrangements to keep in regular touch with their employees, ensuring that workers don’t feel isolated or abandoned.
Physically, care needs to be taken to mitigate the risks of long-term sitting and computer use on employees’ health. This may include purchasing risers, foot rests, ergonomic mouse mats or other equipment to ensure they are comfortable and don’t suffer health issues such as poor posture and back problems while working. Regular breaks should also be encouraged.
With workers forced to self-isolate or social distance, more care needs to be taken to keep tabs on their mental health, too, and support them with any anxiety or stress they may be experiencing.
Consult the experts
If you are unsure of your responsibilities as an employer, or want to know more about what you can do to protect your workers during these difficult times, then get in touch. Talk to our Employment Law team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 0330 221 8855 for clear, up-to-date advice.