COVID-19 Employers’ duty of care

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020

By law, employers are responsible for the health and safety of all employees. During this time of uncertainty, it is difficult to decide what you need to concentrate your efforts on first.  As business owners and entrepreneurs, we know that ensuring the health and safety of our employees comes above all else.

Firstly, you should adhere to the advice and guidance of the government. But that may be harder than it sounds, when this situation is evolving on an almost hourly basis.  Currently the government is advising that we limit our movement, and avoid travel, for all but essential appointments.  We know as small business owners ourselves that this can be difficult.

We suggest that you apply these measures immediately:

  • Display posters encouraging staff to follow respiratory hygiene guidance, for example bin tissues after use etc
  • Encourage staff to wash their hands regularly
  • Make hand soap available in all toilets and kitchens
  • Discourage personal contact such as shaking hands
  • Keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
  • Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces, such as desk tops, door handles and doorknobs
  • Assess the need for face-to-face contact with clients – consider using video conferencing / Zoom for meetings instead
  • Carry out a risk assessment on all staff members and identify those in the vulnerable groups and adopt ‘social distancing’.  This includes:
    • Working from home where possible
    • Avoiding busy commuting times on public transport
    • Avoiding gatherings of people, whether in public, at work or at home.

Once you have assessed your employees, you can help them by offering:

  • Flexible ways of working, for example by staggering their working day so they can avoid the normally busy commute home
  • To permit staff to work from home if their position and job role allow it
  • To cancel meetings and rearrange them for a later date or if essential, consider taking the meeting online.  There are a number of great free resources available.

When assessing your employees, you need to know what is classed as vulnerable as you must take extra steps for these employees in particular.  The government have classed the following categories of people as vulnerable, but they are not limited to just these. Those who –

  • Have a long-term health condition, for example asthma, diabetes or heart disease, or a weakened immune system as a result of medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
  • Are pregnant
  • Are aged 70 or over
  • Care for someone with a health condition that might put them at a greater risk.

You can find more information about social distancing and vulnerable people on GOV.UK

Having identified your vulnerable employees, the government has issued guidance that strongly advises people who are at a higher risk of catching coronavirus (‘vulnerable people’) to take strict social distancing measures. At the foremost of these would be to ask them to work from home, if their job role allows this.

  • you can provide laptops and telephones for them to take home but don’t forget to check if your business insurance policy covers for this.
  • You can arrange paperwork tasks that can be done at home for those employees who don’t work on computers.

If you ask your employees to work from home, remember that you remain responsible for their health and safety you should:

  • Pay the employee as usual
  • Keep in regular contact
  • Check that each employee feels the work they’re being asked to do at home can be done safely
  • Ensure employees have the right equipment to work safely
  • Establish whether any reasonable adjustments are necessary for an employee who has a disability
  • Check on their health and wellbeing, you could even arrange a team exercise or yoga session using your online technology.

It is understandable that employees might not want to come to work if they are afraid of catching coronavirus.  As an employer you should listen to any concerns staff may have, and take steps to protect everyone. Consider not just their physical health, but their mental wellbeing too.

If you have an employee who is particularly nervous about using public transport you may want to consider taking steps for them to be able to drive themselves into work.  You could offer additional parking or subsidise any parking charges they may incur.

If none of this is possible you may want to arrange with them to take the time off as annual or unpaid leave.

If an employee refuses to attend work without a valid reason, that could result in disciplinary action – but of course you want to avoid that, if at all possible.

The content contained within this document has been obtained from information gathered from www.gov.uk and www.acas.org.uk and may have changed since publication. It has been provided as a guide only.  You should always seek professional advice pertaining to your own individual circumstances. Special thank you to Clive Thomas of Watkins and Gunn for his contribution.

And for more around self-isolation and absence issues, click to our Self-isolation and absence page.

If you are concerned about laying off staff, check the advice on our What if I need to lay off my employees? page.

Want to understand the furloughing process? Then visit our How to Furlough Your Employees page.

Want to know more about financial support during the coronavirus disruption? Then click to read the Financial Help for Businesses page.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Categories