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How will businesses and the country get going again?

The government’s forthcoming guidance on reopening

It is expected that Boris Johnson will make an announcement on Thursday, 07 May and again, on Sunday, 10 May 2020 with the guidance on re-opening for businesses. It is likely to be “workplace-by-workplace” basis, rather than a “sector-by-sector”.

It is expected that the guidance will outline the best practices for businesses to follow but it is likely to allow different businesses to apply it differently in their own individual workplaces, so there will be flexibility within a framework.
Employers will still have concerns about how they can re-open safely, and so play their part in protecting their workforce and customers, whilst continuing to trade.

All employees should be encouraged to work from home unless impossible. However, certain jobs require people to travel to, from and for their work, for example to operate machinery, work in construction or manufacturing, or to deliver front line services.

Below is a summary of advice for employers and employees to follow.

Employers are advised to:

  • make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date;
  • keep employees well informed on all actions taken within the business;
  • ensure employees who are in an extremely vulnerable group and should be shielded are supported to stay at home;
  • those employees who can work from home, should continue doing so wherever possible;
  • where homeworking is not possible, consider shift working or the staggering of processes;
  • make sure managers are clear on sickness reporting and sick pay policies and procedures in case someone in the workplace is potentially infected;
  • provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff and encourage them to use them;
  • make sure there are places to wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, and encourage everyone to do so regularly;
  • provide additional pop-up handwashing stations or facilities if possible, providing soap, water, hand sanitiser and tissues and encourage staff to use them;
  • notices promoting hand hygiene and social distancing should be visibly displayed in the workplace;
  • apply social distancing measures wherever possible;
  • where it is possible to remain two metres or 3 steps apart, use floor markings to mark the distance, particularly in the most crowded areas;
  • where it is not possible to remain two metres apart, staff should work side by side, or facing away from each other, rather than face to face if possible;
  • where face-to-face contact is essential, this should be kept to 15 minutes or less wherever possible;
  • avoid crowding;
  • make regular announcements to remind staff and/or customers to follow social distancing advice and wash their hands regularly;
  • encourage the use of digital and remote transfers of material where possible rather than paper format, such as using e-forms, emails and e-banking;
  • encourage staff to bring their own food, and staff canteens and distributors should move to takeaway;
  • consider extending and staggering meal times to avoid crowding;
  • avoid sharing of equipment, including pens;
  • frequently clean and disinfect surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products.

If you are a vulnerable worker or an employee, such as a pregnant woman, or have an underlying condition such as cancer, asthma and diabetes, or over-70s and feel your employer does not take steps to enforce the government’s guidance you may refuse to come back to work unless the employer complies with it.

Under Section 44(1)(d) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 workers have the right not to be subjected to any detriment by any act, or any deliberate failure to act, by his/her employer done on the grounds that in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent and which he/she could no reasonably have been expected to avert, he/she left or proposed to leave) or (while the danger persisted) refused to return to his/her place of work or any dangerous part of his/her place of work.

It could be argued that the employer’s failure to adequately control or mitigate a risk of exposure to the infection would be considered serious and imminent danger.