With just days to go before so-called ‘freedom day’ the Government has released guidance on the new rules for returning to work on 19 July.
The guidance has been met with anger from some business leaders who say that the new rules create confusion, not clarity, about how to safely welcome workers back to offices and factories.
In actual fact, the new rules don’t deviate very much from the old, for example, instead of being required to provide adequate ventilation, employers are now advised to ‘maximise the supply of fresh air’ in premises.
Instead of arranging workplaces so that staff are kept apart, the new rules tell employers to ‘consider reviewing layouts’.
In terms of face coverings, they are no long mandatory indoors, but use of them is encouraged in indoor areas where workers may ‘come into contact with people that they do not normally meet’.
Rather than people working from home where their job allows, workers are now advised to return to work, but only gradually over the summer.
Clearly the rising number of Covid cases nationally is weighing heavy on the Government’s mind leading to a more cautious approach than many might have expected.
The difficulty for employers is that vague guidelines can lead to confusion and conflict between employer and employee, especially where employees feel vulnerable or nervous about a return to normality.
From a legal perspective, the guidance is just advisory and not law. However, under health and safety legislation employers must ensure workplaces are safe and if an employee believes they are being exposed to serious danger, they can take action including refusing to come to work!.
In reality, I expect that many employers will retain Covid safety measures in a bid to ensure their employees feel safe and confident about returning to their usual workplace.
Having clear policies and company rules on what needs to be done, will assist and employers should remember that their building is not a public place, so they can decide the rules within that space.
If you need advice about the new rules on returning to work or about conflict between employer and employee, do get in touch. Our Beswicks HR service is also available, providing unlimited access to an employment solicitor for phone and email advice whenever you need it for a low monthly fee.