Coronavirus and the workplace - what next?

Insights /

In order to assist businesses who taking steps to re-open after a period of closure or remote working as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, we have set out some key guidance in the main areas where our clients are seeking advice. This includes guidance on keeping your employees safe, re-calling staff from furlough leave and adapting to the longer term economic consequences of the pandemic. 

Keeping your employees safe

Employers must ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees, as far as it is reasonably practicable to do so.

Conducting a Coronavirus risk assessment is essential. On the basis of that risk assessment, you should implement a safe system of work and ensure that this is followed by all staff.

The focus of the risk assessment should be on how to monitor and control infected employees, and minimise the risk of both aerosol and contact transmission of the Coronavirus.

The specific measures an employer will need to take will be industry, business and workplace specific. Social distancing between employees and workstations, cohorting (where A and B teams attend work on specific days) staggered start times, and more regular and thorough cleaning are some possible actions employers can take.

The Government are set to release guidance on how to make workplaces “Covid-19 Secure”. Following this guidance will be a good indicator that your business is taking appropriate measures. However, it cannot be a substitute for your own risk assessment.

Failure to comply with your health and safety obligations can have costly consequences for your business including criminal sanctions, personal injury claims or unfair dismissal claims if, for example, you dismiss an employee for raising health and safety concerns.

Ending furlough leave

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) is likely to come to an end on 30 June 2020.

If you have staff on furlough leave, you will need to recall them to work by giving them notice. This should be in accordance with any terms set out in your furlough agreement with the employees.  

It is important to note that to make a claim under the CJRS, an employee must have been furloughed for at least 21 days. Therefore, if an employee’s furlough comes to an end before 21 days have passed, the employer will be unable to make a claim for this employee.

Making redundancies

The economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic means that many businesses will be re-configuring their operations. Some businesses will be making redundancies.

To avoid an unfair dismissal claim, you must make sure that redundancy is the real reason for dismissal and you should follow a fair procedure. Warning and consulting the employee about the proposed redundancy, selecting individuals using a fair (non-discriminatory) criteria, and considering suitable alternative employment within the organisation, are all key elements of a fair process.

If you are proposing to dismiss as redundant 20 or more employees within a period of 90 days or less, you are also required to collectively consult with and provide information to the appropriate employee representatives (such as trade union representatives or appointed employee representatives).

The consultation period must commence 45 days prior to the first dismissal if 100 plus employees are affected, or 30 days if between 20-99 employees are affected.

This period of consultation can commence whilst employees are on furlough leave, and failure to undertake a collective consultation when required to do so can result in significant financial penalties.

For specific guidance for managing employees and your workplace during the Coronavirus pandemic, please contact a member of our Employment Team.

Lydia Cammiade

Lydia Cammiade Associate

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