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How to prepare your staff for the return to work

Small businesses contemplating how to respond to the prime minister’s call to return to work need to tread carefully.

Small businesses contemplating how to respond to the prime minister’s call to return to work need to tread carefully. The government’s advice remains that anyone who can work from home should continue to do so, and it has issued lengthy guidance detailing how to provide safe environments for staff who really do need to return to work. This guidance is detailed in eight separate publications (available via Gov.uk), each aimed at a different type of workplace setting, from construction sites to takeaway restaurants. 

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Business owners in each sector need to understand how the guidance applies to them before asking staff to come in. The Health and Safety Executive has received extra funding during the crisis , and will be conducting spot checks to ensure workplaces comply. Certain principles apply across all industries. Employers must carry out Covid-19 risk assessments, publishing the results wherever possible. They need to redesign workplaces to ensure social distancing is possible, with lay-outs and working practices planned to enable staff can maintain two-metre distances between each other. 

Where this isn’t possible, employers must manage transmission risk – by putting in barriers in shared spaces, for example. Cleaning processes also need to be reinforced.

Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act gives employees a legal right to refuse to work if they reasonably believe doing so could put them (or those around them) at “serious and imminent danger”. Lawyers warn that workers whose employers haven’t done risk assessments and put remedial measures in place would have a strong claim to exercise this right.

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