Posted by James Medhurst, Senior Associate
The Government’s coronavirus safety guidance: 5 takeaways for employers
Our Employment & HR team brings you the salient points from this week’s key Government updates: guidance on working safely during the coronavirus pandemic and the much-anticipated extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
1. Employees to return to work where possible, but only if not able to work from home
The Government wants employers to start to increase their economic activity by encouraging more employees to return to work. But this guidance is aimed primarily at those businesses for whom it is impossible to work from home, such as construction sites and factories. Many employees in other sectors are already working from home and are not being encouraged to return to the workplace. Similarly, the guidance in relation to vulnerable employees has not changed and employers still have to think how to protect them, or let them remain at home.
2. Not everybody will return at once
Even where employees do return, the Government is not anticipating that they will all return at once. For example, the guidance recommends that support staff for construction sites and factories should work from home if possible, and employers should plan for the minimum number of people who need to be on site at any one time. If social distancing is not possible for a particular activity, the guidance recommends that employers consider whether that activity needs to continue. If not, it could be that these employees do not yet return to work.
3. Risk assessment without too much red tape
Employers are being advised to carry out a risk assessment and to share it with employees and with health and safety representatives. However, the guidance also explains that, “A risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork, but rather about identifying sensible measures to control the risks in your workplace.” Employers with fewer than five employees are not required to write the risk assessment down, but it is a good idea to keep a written record to show that risks have been considered and sensible controls put in place.
4. Mitigating risks where social distancing is not possible
The guidance sets out a number of ways to maintain social distancing. They vary from sector to sector, but include ideas like staggering start times, introducing a one-way flow of people through a workplace, and moving workstations further apart. But it acknowledges that there might be good reasons why some steps are not possible and offers alternatives such as using screens to separate employees, or partnering employees so that they always work together.
5. Extension of the Job Retention Scheme
The Government has extended the scheme that covers part of the wages of employees who have been furloughed. It will stay in its current form until the end of July, and in an amended form until the end of October. The changes are likely to include reducing the amount of the contribution to be made by Government, but extending it to those employees who continue to work part-time. This will incentivise employers and employees to consider a partial return to work, while at the same time delaying the need for redundancies in the majority of cases.
As the situation develops, our Employment & HR team continue to provide up-to-date, relevant, pragmatic guidance for employers. For any queries related to the impact of the coronavirus, contact us on
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