A blog post I wrote for a legal website:
As the lockdown draws to a close and employees return to the workplace it is vital that employers make their workplaces COVID-secure.
There has been speculation about claims being made against companies if workers feel that reasonable precautions have not been made to keep their workplaces safe. If an individual were to contract the virus due to negligence the employer might find themselves defending a claim.
Whilst the unprecedented nature of this pandemic makes it a little challenging to be definitive about the exact outcome of such litigation, I suspect that employers are unlikely to want to become the test case!
This post will give employers some recommendations to mitigate the risks that might arise from staff returning to the workplace post-lockdown.
Make sure that you comply with the government’s COVID-secure workplace safety guidelines
The government has published clear and practical steps that businesses should take when as staff return. It is essential that employers follow these guidelines as failing to do so would be very likely to form the initial basis of any potential claim.
The government has provided bespoke guidance for different sectors, so make sure that the guidance that you are following pertains to your specific industry.
Make sure that your risk assessment is up to date
Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, a business is required by law to ‘protect its employees, and others, from harm’. This will now include taking reasonable steps to protect people from coronavirus. If you have fewer than five employees, then a written assessment is not required, although we would recommend doing so.
A thorough risk assessment will help to establish a COVID-safe workplace and will lessen the likelihood of any potential negligence claims.
Cleaning, hygiene and handwashing
The workplace must be kept clean, and frequent sanitising and handwashing should be encouraged. It is recommended that you provide washing facilities with running water, soap and paper towels and supply hand sanitiser in locations other than the bathrooms.
If you are a business that receives deliveries, then sanitiser gel should be provided for people entering and exiting vehicles, or handling deliveries (if they are unable to wash their hands).
Coronavirus can transfer from people to surfaces and these steps mitigate the risk of the virus spreading.
Talk to employees and listen to their concerns
One of the easiest ways to guard against any potential future claim is simple communication.
Have a staff meeting before the workplace opens. This will allow the employer to explain the various steps that the company has taken to provide a safe working environment, including outlining any new procedures and systems. In addition, employees can raise any safety concerns that they might have.
This is a great way to give employees confidence that their return to work will be a safe one. If possible, continue such meetings on a regular basis.