Law firm Dentons has published advice for all employers reopening their workplaces after the easing of the COVID-19 lockdown.
One of the most frequently asked questions is whether the new government guidelines are legal obligations. Dentons says that specific guidance on safe working practices has not changed the Health and Safety at Work Act, which requires employers to reduce employee health and safety risks. All workplaces need to have risk assessments and introduce safety procedures that minimise hazards for both workers and customers.
Measures such as social distancing and the use of PPE (personal proactive equipment) may not be specified in the law, but if these measures are not implemented in the workplace, a health and safety inspector could decide that the employer has not taken all “reasonably practical” steps to reduce risk and the company could be fined or prosecuted. Companies are advised to implement the government back to work guidelines.
Lawyers at Dentons note that eliminating risk entirely may not be possible. As long as risks have been minimised, no business is likely to be prosecuted for negligence, but it should be noted that that the back-to-work guidelines are different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to those issued in England.
COVID-19 testing is, or soon will be, available for everyone over the age of five. Employers can book tests for their employees, or staff can do this themselves.
Vulnerable groups are advised not to return to the workplace. These include those with certain medical conditions, pregnant women and disabled employees.