Originally published in BSA Society Matters magazine.
As we enter "Phase 2" of the Government's Covid-19 recovery strategy, the easing of restrictions on businesses is focusing firms' attention on managing the return to the workplace. Here we consider some of the ways that building societies can make the workplace safe, engage with the workforce and get employees back to work.
Making the workplace safe for a return
Government guidance on "Covid Secure" workplaces does not require work environments to be completely risk free. However, all firms must conduct a Covid-19 risk assessment, maintain home working arrangements where possible, implement enhanced cleaning and hygiene arrangements, put in place social-distancing arrangements, and, where ensuring social-distancing is not possible, take all reasonable steps to reduce transmission risk. Societies operating across borders into the devolved jurisdictions will need to consider the position in those nations. Firms with over 50 employees should also consider publishing the results of their risk assessment as the Government has outlined its expectation that such are displayed on a firm's website.
To ensure compliance with health & safety law, firms need to follow the relevant sector specific guidance as published by BEIS. For societies, this includes procuring necessary equipment including plastic barriers, floor markings and face coverings within branches and offices. The Regulator (likely to be the Local Authority here) may prosecute where a firm has failed to cooperate with an enforcement notice or has continued to act in contravention of health & safety obligations. However, in the context of Covid -19, the HSE Chief Executive recently confirmed that advice is the most likely tool to be deployed for most firms, at least in the first instance.
Risk assessments must be dynamic, deliverable and frequently reviewed. The Regulator is unlikely to consider a Covid-19 risk assessment as "suitable and sufficient" unless there has been consultation with employees. Societies should consider which employees they need to consult with, such as trade unions, elected employee representatives or perhaps via an employee questionnaire.
Societies should collect information on potential obstacles to employees' return, such as employee vulnerability, or practical difficulties such as childcare or commuting issues. When working through the issues raised, societies might consider developing frequently asked questions for the most common issues. Communications should give employees returning to the workplace advance notice of what will be expected of them, to afford them time to address any personal arrangements.
Getting the workforce back to work
Engagement and communication are key to addressing employee concerns. However, some employees may be reluctant to return to the workplace even when all reasonable steps have been taken to make the workplace Covid secure. Societies should be ready to find workable solutions for a wide range of individual employee circumstances.
Monitoring and tracing
Monitoring in the workplace will be needed to ensure Covid-19 risk management. Societies must take care to balance health and safety with data protection obligations such that monitoring does not infringe the privacy of employees.
Monitoring might include temperature checking, health screening or employee tracing strategies through the NHS test and trace service, tracing Apps or by other means. Employers need to be aware that employees' health data is deemed a special category data under the GDPR and DPA 2018. Employers processing such data for testing purposes should undertake a data protection impact assessment to mitigate any risks. Employers will also need to comply with transparency obligations, and should consider submitting a privacy notice so that employees know what the employer is doing with their data prior to any data collection or processing.
Next steps: Covid-19 key themes and legal support: bit.ly/301oKP6
Article contributors: Nathalie Moreno, Michael Leftley, Erin Shoesmith and Ben Koehne – Addleshaw Goddard partners