Obligations of Employers and Employees relating to Covid-19
The outbreak of the coronavirus (Covid-19) has had a major impact on the working environment, and rights and responsibilities of employers and employees have been brought in to sharp focus by the current crisis.
Some companies have had to stop trading completely whilst others are continuing to work with many employees working from home where possible. Many employers have put some or all of their employees on the Governments “furlough” scheme so that they can be paid 80% of their pay.
Many employees have been designated as essential workers, most obviously in health and care professionals but also in logistics, distribution, warehousing and retail sectors. For those who are continuing to work, the current situation raises many questions about their legal rights and health and safety at work.
If the employer is continuing to operate, and the nature of the work means that employees cannot do their work from home and must come to their normal place of work, how is their health and safety to be protected?
This article was written on 6 April 2020 and reflects the current guidance as of that date.
The basic duty of the employer
Employers must carry out a risk assessment of your work to identify the risks and then eliminate them or reduce them to the lowest level possible. Employers should keep up to date with government guidance and ensure that they continually review their risk assessments.
What about remote working, is it mandatory and who should work from home?
If your job can be done at home, then you should be allowed to work from home.
If you cannot do your job at home, then a risk assessment will identify the risk of you becoming infected with the virus. Measures will need to be taken such as:
- Update employees on actions taken to reduce their risk of exposure in the workplace.
- Managers should be aware of what symptoms to look out for so that they can identify any employee who may have become infected and send them home immediately.
- Encourage employees to regularly wash their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds.
- Reminding employees to keep a suitable distance from other employees.
- Encouraging employees to follow advice about social distancing.
For more information about this, visit this Gov.uk page.
Disposable gloves and hand sanitisers
There is no general obligation to provide employees with gloves or sanitiser. Employers are encouraged to provide such equipment and advise their employees to use it. This practice is important to reduce the risk of spreading the virus amongst employees.
Use of protective masks
Except in the case of healthcare workers who are at high risk of coming into contact with patients who have been infected, there is no government guidance recommending the use of masks as a general protective measure. There is a lot of information about masks and at this stage it is not clear whether advice to employers about masks will change. Presently, there is no general advice to provide them.
The distance between workstations
In order to comply with guidance on social distancing, employers may need to make changes to workstations to put greater distance between employees than would be normal. Even before the current outbreak, the law already provided that a workplace should have sufficient space for the purposes of health and safety.
Employers carrying out risk assessments need to consider how the work can be done by employees where they would normally be closer than 2m apart and make changes to the method of working so that this work can be done in a safe manner.
Collective protection measures
Employers have a duty to protect employees as well as other workers who might visit their premises but who are not employed by them to provide a safe place of work. In the context of the current outbreak this means taking such action as frequently cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces that are touched regularly.
Employers should ensure that everyone knows the rules and this will be helped by putting up posters reminding employees about cleaning their hands and social distancing, for example.
Concern for the safety of everyone in society is at the heart of the government guidance to employers and employees.
Levenes would like to thank key workers for continuing to work in these unprecedented and challenging circumstances.