Small Business Saturday Blog

How can my employees return to work safely and legally after Covid-19?

Friday, June 12, 2020 at 06:00

With recent updates from the Government stipulating that a phased return to work for some businesses will now begin, many questions will be raised.
  • How can I return my employees back to work safely?
  • What legal obligations do I have for their health and safety?
  • What if my employees refuse to return to work?
While information from the Government is released daily, we know that it can be challenging to get clear answers.
We’ve put together some of the key points to support you, highlighting considerations you must make as an employer when preparing to return your staff to the workplace.
As an employer, you have both a moral and legal obligation to your employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSAW), which includes providing adequate protection for infectious diseases. Regardless of this unprecedented situation, this law still stands and, if employers do not adhere, they could find themselves facing employment tribunals and criminal charges.
Your employee's rights
Employees have the right under HSAW to:
  • Leave work if they have reasonable belief there is an imminent or immediate danger to them, including encouraging others to do the same;
  • Report Health and Safety breaches through whistle blowing;
  • Claim for compensation through potential employment tribunals and/or civil court. 
Employers could face not only employment claims against them for mismanagement of H&S, but could also face criminal charges including negligence and manslaughter if reasonable action to protect employees is not taken.
Your obligations as an employer
As an employer, the things you will need to consider when returning your employees to work are:
  • The current government guidelines and guidance;
  • Changes, whether temporary or permanent, that need to be made to internal policies, including absence reporting, flexible working, travel/expenses, working from home; 
  • The decisions on employee returns must be made with consideration to individual circumstances such as discriminatory decisions, unnecessary stress and psychological harm;
  • Just issuing a policy or minor training is not enough to satisfy employers' liability allegations in tribunal cases: communication must be documented and the policies evolve over time;
  • Just because everyone is affected by Coronavirus does not mean that claims will be unlikely, especially under H&S: it is actually the opposite, as tribunals are more likely to see negligence being claimed as information regarding employers' requirements are unchanged in law;
  • Records should be kept regarding temporary business changes, communication and individual agreements;
  • Risk assessments must be completed as part of employers' obligations through both the Employment Rights Act and HSAW;
  • Provisions such as Occupational Health and reasonable adjustments may have a cost associated to them, and therefore businesses should be aware of their obligations and the cost implications they may have.
The most important thing you can do is to keep the channels of communication with your employees open. If they feel they are being listened to and that you are taking their concerns on board, this will help you to get your employees back to work in a way to meet both their contractual obligations and your obligations as an employer. If in doubt, please seek professional support and get in touch to book a  free 30-minute consultation here.
Would you like to know more? Sign up for the replay of Altum HR's 60-minute webinar "Getting Your Employees Back to Work Safely" here
Altum HR is a high quality HR outsourcing solutions consultancy based in Cheshire that specialises in all aspects of HR, employee development, employment law and payroll, all with a refined legal focus.


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