Keeping employees safe during COVID-19 and returning to work

What businesses need to know about managing employees and keeping them safe returning to work during COVID-19


After 10 weeks in lockdown and a gentle lifting of restrictions, the possibility of returning to work is getting closer. With the government set to reduce restrictions further on 15 June, with non-essential shops reopening, we look at some commonly asked questions about returning to work.


Do we need to re-design or re-configure our work space?

It depends. You have an obligation to keep your employees safe whilst they’re at work and if they’re not feeling safe then they can refuse to come to work. Social distancing is here to stay and that may mean you’ll need to change your office or workplace layout.

If your business has over 50 employees then you must carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment and your risk assessment should highlight the areas you need to improve on to make your workplace safe. This might include removing desks and workstations to allow for social distancing, creating one-way systems and limiting the amount of people in confined spaces such as toilets and kitchens.

In most cases, it’s unlikely that your workplace is going to be suitable for all your employees to return to work in the same way they’ve done previously and re-designing the entire workplace is going to be an expense that businesses don’t need and probably can’t afford.

The current guidance is if you can, continue working remotely and when lockdown lifts further, for many businesses it will make more sense to reduce the number of people coming into your workplace and continue working remotely.


Should we be testing employees for coronavirus?

Monitoring coronavirus amongst your employees is going to be a huge part of maintaining a safe working environment and you should encourage your team to actively check themselves for coronavirus symptoms and self-isolate when needed.

You should put a clear policy in place to manage the expectations of employees with COVID-19 symptoms, whether they’ve been tested or not.

If you want to go a step further and actually test your employees then this is obviously uncharted legal territory.  It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to force your team to have a test unless there’s a good reason to do so, and if you do, you’ll need to take into account GDPR and processing personal data in a lawful and transparent way.

Personal data relating to health is much more sensitive and must be processed and protected carefully.


Should we be providing PPE?

If you run a business in the healthcare sector, then yes, it is necessary to provide PPE for all your employees because it’s essential to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

For businesses in other sectors, the guidance is a little less clear and there’s conflicting information about how useful masks and gloves actually are.

If you run a business that operates in an ‘enclosed space’ such as a corner shop, or have an office in a small space, then the latest government guidance recommends that face masks are worn.

If there’s a good reason and you decide you’d like your team to wear gloves and masks at work, it should be a policy that’s rolled out to all employees.


Burning questions?

If you’ve got a burning question you’d like answering, send us an email and we’ll cover it in our next post.


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