You’ve been asked by your employer to go into work, but you’re worried about catching COVID-19. This is entirely understandable and something that many employees are concerned about right now.
As an employee, you rightly want to know that your employer will put in place measures to ensure that whilst you are working, you and your fellow employees will be kept as safe as possible.
Let’s start by asking – should my employer be open for business?
It’s worth mentioning at the onset that the government has issued guidance that prevents certain types of businesses from opening at all. A list of those businesses who should not be operating at this current time (note: this list is updated regularly by the government – please check) and should therefore not be putting their employees, or indeed their customers, at risk in any case and is committing an offence under the Regulations.
If your employer, however, is one of those permitted by government to be open at this time, your employer can ask you to go into work so long as you are well and not showing signs of the coronavirus.
Your employers’ health and safety obligations during coronavirus
The first thing to point out is that the coronavirus pandemic does not change the fundamentals of the health and safety legal obligations your employer has to you. For example, under The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, commonly known as the ‘Management Regs’, your employers has an obligation to make ‘assessment of risk’ to the health of their employees and to act upon those risks so as to reduce them. The coronavirus has not in any way diluted your employers legal obligations.
In practice, what this means is that your employer will need to assess the risk of you catching COVID-19 whilst at work and take the necessary steps to mitigate the risk of that happening.
So for example, those working in a warehouse environment will have different risks to say transport workers such as lorry drivers, couriers and bus drivers. The same for frontline workers in the NHS and care home staff to those working in our supermarkets or based in offices.
What is the same for everyone, however, no matter what the nature of your job or which sector you operate in, your employers doesn’t just have an obligation to think about your health and safety during coronavirus, they are required to do something about it legally.
What should my employer being doing to make it safe for me to work?
Based on the coronavirus risk assessment carried out by your employer, they should take reasonable steps to put in place policies and procedures to protect their employees and, as we have seen widely publicised in recent weeks, and where government advises to do so, to provide adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Your employer should refer to the governments’ guidance on limiting spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in business and workplaces.
Here’s an example of some of the good practices the government sets out for employers:
- Keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19) in the workplace.
- Make sure there are places to wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, and encourage everyone to do so regularly.
- Provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff, and encourage them to use them.
- Set-out social distancing in the workplace measures.
- Reviewing the use of WC, canteen and social rooms.
The government has also set-out more detailed, bespoke guidance for individual sectors, retail, waste management, logistics, manufacturing and farming for example.
It is your employers responsibility to reduce the contact between employees in so far as is practical by, for example, making sure that those who can work at home do so. Businesses can also operate shift-working or staggering or changing their hours of business.
The health and safety requirements for employers during coronavirus are numerous, we understand that, but they are all directed at the same goal which is to ensure that you are protected as far as is practically possible from this life-threatening virus whilst at work.
It’s worth having a look at the governments’ guidance on limiting spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in business and workplaces and asking yourself, is my employer doing enough to protect me in the workplace?
We’re all in this together!
But, don’t forget, however, it’s not just your employer who needs to be proactive, you too have an obligation to your fellow employees. Keep your distance, do not speak to your colleagues face on, wear your PPE where applicable and wash your hands regularly with antiviral hand wash. And, if you have any inkling that you might be unwell with COVID-19, stay away from work and self-isolate.
However, if you do catch COVID-19 at work then your employers could be liable to you for compensation in just the same way as if you suffered a physical accident at work. Therefore, it’s in the interests of everyone that your employer puts thoughtful and effective steps in place to keep you and your colleagues as safe as possible at work and that all the team do you their very best to follow them.