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Coronavirus update – the road back to work

On Sunday (13 May 2020), the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, addressed the nation and talked about a tentative and highly controlled return to work. As the press have pointed out since, as has the opposition, there remains a lot of uncertainty and many questions.

But clearly, the lockdown cannot go on forever and workers are being encouraged back to their places of work, where they cannot already work from home. Obviously, there are health risks with this plan, not least how workers safely travel to their workplaces, but there is a degree of guidance, not least that produced by ACAS in its published updated guidance, which encourages employers to talk to its employees (and its workers) early in that process. Presumably, that is the reason the lockdown measures are not being relaxed (such as that is) until tomorrow, Wednesday, 13 May 2020.

When planning a return to the workplace, the ACAS guidance makes it clear that employees must:

  • Consult with staff and employee reps (including any trade union reps and H&S officers)
  • Carry out risk assessments (which includes a link to the general guidance on risk assessments from HSE – https://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/controlling-risks.htm)
  • Ensure that the work premises is as safe as possible for all staff and visitors

Interestingly, the ACAS guidance highlights that individuals are likely to be anxious about returning to the workplace and states that “employers and employees should talk about any concerns and try to resolve them together”

Read the ACAS advice here

The government itself has now issued 8 sets of guidelines (covering the eight workplace settings which are allowed to be open) for relevant employers  “… to help them get their businesses back up and running and workplaces operating safely”, which it refers to as the ‘COVID-19 secure’ guidelines (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19)

In brief, the five key points are:

  1. Work from home if you can
  2. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions
  3. Maintain 2 m social distancing, wherever possible
  4. Where people cannot be 2 m apart, manage transmission risk
  5. Reinforcing cleaning processes