Staying ‘COVID-19 Secure’: Analysing UKGov’s Back-To-Work Guidance

By Nic Hart

Following on from the Prime Ministers statement on Sunday evening (May 10th), setting out the next phase -Stay Alert- there was a general reaction of uncertainty about how this will translate for employers and employees in practical terms.

In the time since the Prime Ministers statement we have now had a number of Guidance documents released regarding how workers will be kept safe, which is fundamental to implementing a return to work which will have industry and union support. I have given an overview of the new Guidelines and Guidance below, however I am aware that there will be sector specific queries as this Guidance is implemented which I am happy to discuss as required.

The first of the guidance was the Government paper- OUR PLAN TO REBUILD: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy, published yesterday -May 11th, which dealt with the work place in general terms. This advised that from Wednesday May 13th and for the “foreseeable future”;

  • Workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible.
  • All workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open. Sectors of the economy that are allowed to be open should be open, for example, this includes food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories. The only exceptions to this are those workplaces such as hospitality and nonessential retail which during this first step the Government is requiring to remain closed.

This paper also advised that workplaces should follow the new “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines. These guidelines were released yesterday evening (May 11th) and set out 5 key points. In addition, there was sector specific guidance which applies to the 8 sectors of businesses currently open and includes shops which the Government hopes to begin phased reopening from June 1st.

The Government’s 5 key points, which it advised- “should be implemented as soon as it is practical” are set out in full below;

  1. Work from home, if you can

All reasonable steps should be taken by employers to help people work from home. But for those who cannot work from home and whose workplace has not been told to close, our message is clear: you should go to work. Staff should speak to their employer about when their workplace will open.

       2. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions

This guidance operates within current health and safety employment and equalities legislation and employers will need to carry out COVID-19 risk assessments in consultation with their workers or trade unions, to establish what guidelines to put in place. If possible, employers should publish the results of their risk assessments on their website and we expect all businesses with over 50 employees to do so.

  1. Maintain 2 metres social distancing, wherever possible

Employers should re-design workspaces to maintain 2-metre distances between people by staggering start times, creating one-way walk-throughs, opening more entrances and exits, or changing seating layouts in break rooms.

  1. Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, manage transmission risk

Employers should look into putting barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams minimising the number of people in contact with one another, or ensuring colleagues are facing away from each other.

  1. Reinforcing cleaning processes

Workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, paying close attention to high-contact objects like door handles and keyboards. Employers should provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.

There is a downloadable notice included in all the sector specific Guidance documents, listed below, which employers should display in their workplaces to show their employees, customers and other visitors to their workplace, that they have followed the above guidelines. (Attached for your reference).

The eight sector specific guidance documents cover;

1)         Construction and other outdoor work– Guidance for people who work in or run outdoor working environments.

2)         Factories, plants and warehouses – Guidance for people who work in or run factories, plants and warehouses.

3)         Homes– Guidance for people working in, visiting or delivering to other people’s homes as well as their employers.

4)         Labs and research facilities -Guidance for people who work in or run indoor labs and research facilities and similar environments.

5)         Offices and contact centres – Guidance for people who work in or run offices, contact centres and similar indoor environments.

6)         Restaurants offering takeaway or delivery– Guidance for people who work in or run restaurants offering takeaway or delivery services.

7)         Shops and branches– Guidance for people who work in or run shops, branches, stores or similar environments.

8)         Vehicles– Guidance for people who work in or from vehicles, including couriers, mobile workers, lorry drivers, on-site transit and work vehicles, field forces and similar.

These sector specific guidance are available at – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19 (including the notice confirming adherence to the 5 key point guidelines).

There are clearly other areas of industry waiting to return to work and the Government has advised that guidance for these will “be developed and published ahead of those establishments opening to give those businesses time to plan.”

It will be another week of changes for employers across all sectors, as even for those not yet implementing a return to work, there is the imminent announcement from the Chancellor Rishi Sunak regarding the Job Retention scheme. There have been discussions that the scheme could be extended to September on 60% and Government assistance could be made available to top up the wages of part time returners. I will update you on the Guidance and practical application regarding this as soon as we receive the same.

Finally, there were a couple of practical points from HMRC yesterday regarding using the portal;

    1. Employers whose employees who did not yet have NI numbers have been advised to contact HMRC directly.
    2. HMRC are working on a process to enable employers to amend a claim. In the interim they have advised; “please don’t amend your next claim to reflect any errors that you may have made in a previous one, as this could delay payment. If we spot an error then, where possible, we’ll contact you or your agent to correct the claim.

This will clearly be a busy week for many and there will be some challenges ahead in implementing and managing the new Guidance. Many employees are going to have issues, legitimate or otherwise, with returning to the workplace owing to health and Safety concerns so it will be imperative employers follow the Guidance and address employee concerns when getting employees back to work.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance as you move forward in this next phase.