As businesses return to the workplace following encouragement from the Government, employment law and health and safety experts warn that employees must play their part in adhering to occupational safety measures to ensure, so far as possible, a safe return to work.
Government guidance continues to be that if employees can work from home that they should continue to do so. However, if given the nature of the business and an employee’s job role, it is not possible for them to work from home, then employers will need to implement various measures to ensure workplace compliance and a safe system of work.
To this end businesses should carry out risk assessments before welcoming back employees, as well as putting in place measures such as reconfiguring the workplace, sourcing equipment to comply with distancing measures and changing working patterns. The Government has placed more responsibility in the hands of employers to follow and uphold the new guidelines, explains experts at Slater Heelis.
Sarah Calderwood, Partner in the Employment Law Team at Slater Heelis, said: “Guidance has been developed to safeguard everyone as we try to resume normal working life, so far as possible. However, employees who do not comply could put their clients, colleagues, friends, families and their own lives at risk. One-way routes and the restriction of the use of enclosed and communal spaces as well as staff rotations are in place for a reason, and workers with a relaxed attitude to safety measures could put others at harm.
“The risk to businesses of having to close their place of work following an outbreak, and part of their workforce being out of action due to illness or because they have to self-isolate under the new track and trace regime, could be catastrophic. Therefore, businesses should do all that is reasonably practicable to educate and inform employees about the new safety measures, while stressing the importance of mitigating the transmission risk.
“An employee could also potentially be subject to disciplinary action for failure to follow reasonable management instructions if they do not follow properly implemented safety requirements in the workplace. However, the situation should be carefully considered before any such disciplinary action is taken and it is strongly recommended that legal advice is obtained before employers take any such action. This is particularly given that employers should be mindful that in some circumstances, dismissals relating to the raising of health and safety concerns could amount to automatically unfair dismissals in respect of which compensation is uncapped.”