Easing the lockdown: Key developments for employers
There have been two significant developments for employers so far this week (1) the publication of new “COVID-19 secure” guidelines; and (2) the extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. We set out a summary of the key issues below.
New “COVID-19 secure” guidelines
On 10 May 2020, the Prime Minister announced initial steps to help restart the economy, including confirming that anyone who cannot work from home (for example, those working in construction or manufacturing) should now be “actively encouraged to go to work”.
Following this, the government published new “COVID-19 secure” guidelines for UK employers “to help them get their businesses back up and running and workplaces operating as safely as possible”.
The guidelines provide practical guidance on how to work safely in eight different types of workplaces, including: construction, factories and warehouses, labs and research facilities, offices and contact centres, restaurants offering takeaway services, and shops.
The guidelines are detailed and we would urge you to read the full document relevant to your workplace. Every employer will need to translate the guidance into specific action points depending on the nature of the business (including the size and type of business, how it is organised, operated, managed, and regulated).
Importantly, the guidelines specifically state that:
- They do not supersede any legal obligations relating to health and safety, employment or equalities. It is therefore vital that employers continue to comply with their existing legal obligations, including those relating to staff with protected characteristics;
- It contains non-statutory guidance to take into account when complying with these existing obligations; and
- When considering how to apply the guidance, employers should take into account agency workers, contractors and other people, as well as employees.
COVID-19 secure guidelines: five key points
The guidelines set out five key points which employers should implement as soon as practical:
1. Work from home, if you can – all reasonable steps should be taken by employers to help people work from home. For those who cannot work from home and whose workplace has not been told to close, the government says that those individuals should go to work. Staff should speak to their employer about when their workplace will open.
2. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions – employers will need to carry out COVID-19 risk assessments in consultation with their workers or trade unions to establish what guidelines to put in place. If possible, employers should publish the results of their risk assessments on their website (and all businesses with 50+ employees are expected to do this).
3. Maintain two metres social distancing, wherever possible – employers should re-design workspaces to maintain two-metre distances between people by staggering start times, creating one-way walk-throughs, opening more entrances and exits, or changing seating layouts in break rooms.
4. Where people cannot be two metres apart, manage transmission risk – employers should look into putting barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams (minimising the number of people in contact with one another), or ensuring colleagues are facing away from each other.
5. Reinforce cleaning processes – workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, paying close attention to high-contact objects like door handles and keyboards. Employers should provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.
In addition, a downloadable notice is included in the guidance which employers should display in their workplaces to show their employees, customers and other visitors to their workplace, that they have followed this guidance.
Extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (“CJRS”)
On the 12 May 2020, the Chancellor extended the CJRS until the end of October 2020.
We await confirmation of the exact details (which are due by the end of May 2020), but so far we know that:
- New flexibility will be introduced to the CJRS from August when furloughed workers will be able to return to work part-time with employers being asked to pay a percentage towards the salaries of their furloughed staff; and
2. Employer payments will substitute the contribution the government is currently making, ensuring that staff continues to receive 80% of their salary, up to £2,500 a month.
How can I find out more?
We are hosting a free webinar on Thursday 14 May 2020 at 2.30 pm dealing with the key employment law issues arising as a result of the lockdown easing, including:
- What should you do if staff do not (or cannot) return to work (for example, because they are on sick leave, are shielding or have no childcare)?
- How can you deal with staff who ignore social distancing and other Covid-19 guidelines?
- How should you deal with temporary changes to terms and conditions, such as working hours and flexible working?
- If you anticipate having insufficient work for all staff, how might you approach dealing with redundancies during furlough?
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