As businesses work towards reopening in part or full, and mindful of advice and restrictions that continue to change, employers must plan for any return to the workplace in a way that cares for their people and safeguards their health and wellbeing. A return to work guidance for employers can seem somewhat confusing as we try and process what is allowed within the legal element and what is best for our employees and their safety and mental health.

As we progress through the government’s ‘roadmap’ to easing lockdown in England, and the devolved nations follow their own timetables, employers will need to plan for gradual return to the workplace. Employers should note that the timetable and rules set out in any ‘roadmap’ for easing lockdown are still subject to review and it is essential to keep up to date with any further changes during the progressive easing of lockdown.

Steps

Step 1

The government has asked us to follow the The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021 which follows a course of dates and legal restrictions. View link here: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2021/364/contents/made

Step 2

From 12 April 2021
No indoor gathering > 1
Exception 3 (a): Reasonably necessary for work purposes

Step 3

Not before 17 May 2021
No indoor gathering > 6
Exception 3 (a): Reasonably necessary for work purposes

Step 4

Not before 21 June 2021
No stipulated restrictions as yet
Roadmap guidance says there will be a Government review of social distancing before Step 4

Reasonably necessary

The lockdown rules have never stopped attendance in a workplace that is “reasonably necessary for work purposes”, save for forbidding, at different stages the opening of various establishments, such as shops and hospitality venues. Offices have not been on the banned list, so throughout the pandemic workers have been (and are) allowed to attend if this “reasonably necessary” exception applies.

Working safely

Return to work guidance for employers should also take into account that as the economy reopens, businesses should continue to follow the relevant government guidance on working safely and put in place measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The following workplace controls remain unchanged:

  • social distancing
  • adequate ventilation
  • frequent cleaning
  • good hand hygiene

Protecting employees

Protecting the health and safety of employees, customers and third parties on its premises must be at the forefront of employers’ minds when re-opening the workplace. As well as complying with the continuing public health guidelines set out by the government, the statutory duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 require employers, amongst other things, to:

  • Ensure employees are provided with training, information, instructions, and supervision which allows them to work safely.
  • Keep premises well maintained and safe to access and safe to work in both physically and mentally with safe equipment and sufficient resources, including PPE. Storage, use, and transport of substances must also be safe.
  • Have a clear and up-to-date written health and safety policy, and inform employees of its existence, where it can be found and of any updates.
  • Provide all that is required under health and safety law free of charge for the employee.

Employers also have a common law duty to safeguard employee health, safety, and wellbeing, including providing a safe place to work, safe equipment and system of work and competent staff.

For further information on how Safety Forward can assist and advise on return to work guidance for employers please contact us here.