Returning to work after lockdown

By Lorraine Walker

The country is easing out of lockdown and many more industries and places being allowed to restart and re-open on 4 July 2020.

What does this mean for employers and employees?

 

 

Health and Safety

Government advice remains –  if you can, continue to work from home.

For many this is not possible so health and safety requirements and risk assessments including new one for Covid-19 must be undertaken.

An employer’s overriding obligation of taking “reasonably practicable” steps to protect health and safety remains but with doors having been shut for some months, consideration should be give to legionella testing, the safety of gas/electricity/water supplies

Employees should also remind themselves (or be reminded) about their obligations to protect their own health and safety and the colleagues with whom they work.  Perhaps in the lead up re-read the health & safety policy and covid-19 risk assessments that you should have sight of.

Another thing for employers to think about is the safety of their employees when travelling to work to ensure they arrive safely.     The message is employers and employees should communication – discuss travel plans, stay alert to any concerns and work together to assist in overcoming these.

Many individuals are likely to be returning to work with depleted mental health for many reasons.     It will be essential for support to be given and employers should provide and promote access to mental health support. The website of ‘Mind’ – a charity who provide advice and support and campaign to improvement mental health services, awareness etc have many useful resources.

Childcare issues

Employers and employees should be speaking to each other and where necessary exploring and negotiating temporary working arrangements were possible

  • altering working hours to assist in sharing the care responsibilities or working from home are just two examples where compromise could be made.
  • Extending furlough on a full or part time basis (noting the guidelines change at the end of June)
  • Where furlough isn’t available, is annual leave, unpaid parental leave or a sabbatical possible?

Dismissal of a member of staff that can’t return to work within a reasonable time-frame due to childcare issues is a last report.  All other options must be explored and an employee warned that their job is at risk.

We recommend legal advice be taken to avoid potentially unfair dismissals and possible discrimination claims.

Requesting information about potential or actual exposure to the virus?

The question of whether an individual can be asked to sign a declaration about where they have been, their exposure to the virus, or be required to provide health information sits firmly in the crossover between data privacy and employment.

In the context of the pandemic, employers should in most cases be able to process such employee information under health & safety legislation and the general duty to provide a safe and secure working environment.  Information used should be limited to that needed to make health and safety decisions relating to office closures or disinfecting the workplace.     In reliance of this general duty employers will also need to show that the collection of employee information is necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of employees, and  document the consideration of the risk to employees together with any alternatives that may have been considered

An appropriate policy for the processing of such information and compliance with key data protection principles and obligations (such as transparency, data minimisation and security requirements) should also be in place.

Any information collected should not be kept for longer than is necessary and an employer should implement steps to ensure compliance.

As to whether an employer can disclose that an employee is infected with COVID-19 to their colleagues, the advice is that this should be done only where necessary, ie in a preventive context and in such case the employee should be informed in advance of the information being made known and their dignity and integrity be protected.

 In summary employers should therefore only collect the minimum amount of information relevant for the purpose identified and must identify a lawful basis and exemption for processing such information.

If you require any advice on employment issues, please contact Lorraine Walker on 02476 387821 or 07458027010 or alternative email her at lwalker@willsonslegal.co.uk

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Willsons Solicitors