Updated Guidance – Back to the office following COVID-19

Following the Government’s announcement in May that the lockdown as a result of COVID-19 was to be lifted to allow those that could not work from home to get back to work, guidance has been produced to assist with that return, and has recently been updated following the governments easing of restrictions over the last few weeks.

So what has changed for Employers in terms of the updated guidance?

In a nutshell not very much in terms of what the guidance is and recommendations are for employers looking to get their employees back into the workplace.

Whilst the guidance reflects the alteration to the social distancing guidelines by stating that employers should make every reasonable effort to comply with social distancing (which is stated to still be 2 metres, or now 1 metre with risk mitigation to be put in place), and encourages the use of the “Test and Trace” service, not much has changed in terms of what employers should be considering in terms of risk, and what steps they should be taking to enable their employees to return to the workplace safely.

So what does the guidance say that Employers should be doing / considering?

  1. The guidance is still that if you can work from home then continue to do so, and employers should monitor the well-being of people who are working from home, and provide equipment to enable people to work at home safely and effectively.
  2. There will however be a proportion of people who cannot work from home (either because of operational reasons, because they do not have the equipment to work from home, or because their home environment prevents home working) in which case they will be looking to return to work, but if possible, maintain social distancing (keeping people 2 metres apart, or now 1 metre with risk mitigation to be put in place).

    The first step however for employers is that they need to undertake a specific COVID-19 risk assessment to put in place appropriate steps and measures to enable their employees to return to the workplace.

    The guidance refers to a number of issues that employers should consider, and it makes suggestions as to how social distancing can be maintained.

    The workplace issues / areas covered amongst other things include people arriving and leaving work, moving around the workplace, workplaces and workstations, workforce management, meetings, common areas, managing customers, visitors and contractors, and dealing with inbound and outbound goods.
  3. Following on from the above, where social distancing is not possible because of the very nature of the work, or the layout of the workplace, further guidance is then provided.

    Recommended mitigating steps in this situation include arranging for employees to work side by side or facing away from each other, using screens to separate people, increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning, using fixed teams or partnering, and keeping the activity time as short as possible.

Whatever your workplace situation, once your risk assessment has been produced:

  • it should be communicated to employees;
  • if you have over 50 employees, the guidance expects you to then publish it on your website;
  • You should complete a poster confirming that you have complied with the government guidance and this should be displayed in the workplace.

The guidance also covers off more general factors that any risk assessment will also need take into account such:

  • the protection of clinically vulnerable and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals;
  • people who need to self-isolate; and
  • the provision of PPE. 

Finally, the guidance provides recommendations with regard to cleaning the workplace both before and during return to work to prevent transmission as far as is reasonably practicable.

The guidance does provide helpful recommendations, but it can only be general guidance and the mitigating steps may not be possible in all circumstances.

Each employer / workplace will need to take what recommendations they can from this document and tailor it according to their specific circumstances having considered the nature of the business, the size and the type of business, how it is organised, managed and regulated, what resources they have, how the premises are laid out, and the needs / individual circumstances of it’s employees (i.e. whether there are any especially vulnerable people).

Hopefully, employers will now be able to use this guidance constructively to enable their employees to return to the workplace and get on with their jobs, with the confidence that steps have been taken and considerations made to protect them from the COVID-19 virus while back at work.

Should you require any assistance or further guidance in the light of the Government’s recommendations and how this should be applied to your particular workplace, or have any other health and safety issues that you would like assistance with, please do not hesitate to contact the team at Prettys.

Louise Plant
Senior Associate