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Coronavirus – Managing Risk as Staff Return To Work

July 2, 2020

As the UK Coronavirus lockdown begins to lift, with non-essential shops being allowed to open in June and more establishments in July, SME owners will be conscious of the need to ensure the health and safety of their employers as well as customers.

The risk of future regulatory enforcement action and/or personal injury claims will be praying heavily on the minds of many owners and directors’.

To assist employers, the Government has released official guidance for returning to the workplace.Guidance for specific sectors including construction, factories and warehouses, labs and research facilities and offices have also been made available.

One of the most significant developments in the process of returning to work is the extension of the furlough scheme. This has been done on a staggered basis, to give employers time to create the policies and procedures required to operate whilst Covid-19 remains a threat.

The government furlough scheme from June to October

The extension of the furlough scheme will operate as follows:

  • June and July – the Government will continue to pay 80% of fully furloughed employees’ salaries, up to £2,500 per month, plus national insurance, and pension contributions. Employer contributions to top-up salaries remain optional.
  • August – 80% of the salary of a furloughed employee will continue to be paid; however, employers will need to pay national insurance and pension contributions. If any hours are worked part-time, it is up to the employer to pay.
  • September – the Government will continue to pay 70% of furloughed employees’ salaries up to a cap of £2,187.50 per month. Employers will need to top up salaries, so every employee receives 80% (capped at £2,500 per month), plus pay national insurance, pension contributions and part-time hours.
  • October – the Government’s contribution will drop to 60% up to a cap of £1,875 per month. Employers will need to top up 20% to make sure furloughed employees receive 80% of their salary, plus pay national insurance, pension contributions and part-time hours.
  • The scheme is currently scheduled to end on 31st October 2020

The CIPD has also released guidance to help employers with returning to work. It urges businesses to ask the following questions before reopening their workplaces.

Is reopening essential?

Do homeworking employees need to return to the office?  If they can continue working from home, can they continue to safely and productively do so?

Is the workplace safe

You have a duty of care to ensure all your employees are safe and experience no risk to their health whilst at work. A comprehensive risk assessment plan should undertaken (make sure you keep a written document in case of a future investigation). Health and safety policies and procedures should then be created to mitigate any identified risks. For example, in the case of a restaurant, seating’s may need to be staggered to ensure customers and staff can remain apart due to necessary guidelines.

Have you had a conversation with your staff?

You may have staff who are scared and anxious about returning to work, especially if they have to take public transport. It may be that starting and finishing times need to be staggered to accommodate concerns. Your employees’ mental health is as important as their physical well being; therefore, ensure concerns are listened to and make support available if someone is struggling with anxiety, stress, depression etc.

Final words

Covid-19 may be with us for some time; therefore, getting the right health and safety policies and procedures in place before reopening and ensuring full compliance with regulations, will protect you and your business against future regulatory investigations and/or civil claims.

If unsure, you should seek expert legal advice.

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