Employers asking staff to return to the office could be breaching health and safety laws if they do not ensure the workplace is “Covid-secure”, a leading law firm has warned.
UK Government guidance currently states that employees should continue to “work from home where possible”, however this is expected to change on July 19.
If employees have already started to return to the workplace, leading Midlands law firm Wright Hassall, has urged employers to put measures in place in line with the current Government guidance in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and to protect the health and wellbeing of those attending the workplace.
Sophie Wahba, a solicitor in Wright Hassall’s Employment Law Team, said: “If businesses are bringing their staff back to work without introducing measures such as social distancing, one way systems, regular cleaning of the workplace and, in cases of larger workforces, ensuring that workers are only attending on a fixed rota to limit numbers, then employers could be failing to uphold their legal duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their workers.
“Similar measures should also be in place for visitors to the workplace, for example, clients attending meetings.
Ms Wahba explained that “employers have a duty to ensure that the workplace is safe and secure for their staff and if they are not doing that there could be breaches of their duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which expressly states that employers should take all reasonable steps to reduce workplace risks.”
The warning comes as the Government considers whether to update guidance on working from home next month.
“The current guidance is work from home where you can,” she said.
“But if you can’t work from home, you can go to work. In the latter case, it is imperative that employers take all necessary measures to ensure their workplace is “Covid-secure”.
Ms Wahba also touched on the topic of mandating Covid19 vaccinations, which are to become compulsory for staff in care homes in England.
Employers that may be considering this are urged to take legal advice on the issue due to the potential legal risks that are involved.
Enforcing such a measure without legal advice could leave employers liable to discrimination claims if an individual’s refusal to be vaccinated can be attributed to a “Protected Characteristic” under the Equality Act 2010, for example, due to a religious or philosophical belief or if they cannot have the vaccine due to a medical condition.
“There has been a lot of talk of a ‘no jab no job’ policy being put in place in some sectors, however, if businesses are considering mandating a vaccine, I would urge them to take legal advice as the ability to do so with minimal legal risk will depend on so many factors,” Ms Wahba added.
Wright Hassall regularly advises and represents clients in relation to defending employment tribunal claims, discrimination claims, as well as claims for unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal and whistleblowing.
The firm also advises employers on implementing current guidance surrounding working from home, including how to make the workplace “Covid-secure”.
They can also assist with preparing Home Working Policies to ensure rules around working from home are clear.