By Mark Callaghan - 29 May 2020
With the rate of new infections and deaths from Covid-19 gradually slowing in the UK, the nation’s focus has broadened from the immediate health crisis to include the wider question of how the UK begins the difficult and uncertain process of ‘opening up’.
Earlier this month, the government announced their new (somewhat nebulous) slogan – ‘Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives’. At the same time, they also issued further instructions and guidance on the UK’s return to work. The upshot of these instructions is that most employers should now be actively seeking to reopen, where possible. Employees who can do so should continue to work from home, but, for those that cannot, employers should be putting in appropriate measures to ensure the workplace is “Covid-secure”. There’s a phrase you never knew you needed.
The government has published specific guidance on how employers should ensure the health and safety of their employees as they move through this process. Under the common law and legislation, employers are already required to take ‘reasonable care’ of their employees, and to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees so far as is ‘reasonably practicable’. The legal world is a world of reasonableness, folks.
The government’s guidance provides some useful starting points for any employer who wishes to understand how it should discharge these obligations in a Covid-19 world. The guidance is not a ‘playbook’ allowing employees to tick items off a list; the individual circumstances of each workplace must be considered in detail. But it is a useful and essential starting point.
We will shortly be publishing more detailed materials on employers’ Return to Work duties, including dedicated materials on health and safety obligations and the government’s guidance.
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