Following meetings with key stakeholders, the Government has published new guidance for businesses. The Transitional Protocol replaces the Work Safely Protocol and gives employers information for keeping the workplace safe. It also provides advice on how best to bring employees back to the workplace.
On January 21st, the Government announced the relaxation of many public health measures. This included the requirement for employees to work from home unless it was necessary to attend the workplace in person. The phased return to the work has now started and this updated guidance should be used during the return process.
This update provides general direction to all sectors. It doesn’t interfere with any specific measures required for certain workplaces or industries.
Details of the new guidance
Many of the mandatory COVID-19 policies and procedures required by employers no longer exist. However, as an employer, it’s important to remember that exposure to COVID-19 can still present a health risk to your employees.
As an employer, you also have a duty to ensure your employees’ safety, health, and welfare at work, as far as reasonably practicable. This is something to consider when deciding which measures to put in place or remove.
The guidance states that COVID-19 infection prevention and control (IPC) measures should remain part of your workplace risk assessment. So, you should now review your health & safety practices and documentation, as many practices will be based on old guidance.
The health and safety of staff and visitors should remain a priority. When putting new practices in place, communicate any changes to your staff.
Employers must also maintain good infection control practices and update their COVID-19 response plan to take account of new public health advice.
What do employers need to know?
Many of the decisions surrounding infection control measures are now up to the employer. Yet, the Government has said that it’s “critically important that everyone continues to play their part in limiting transmission.”
The wearing of face masks is still good practice, even though it’s now only legally required in certain sectors and businesses. These include healthcare, transport, retail, and public offices and those serving food and drink. The requirements to maintain two metres social distance, operate in pods of six, and to collect contact details of people on-site has also been removed.
All this means that you no longer need to implement these measures. That is unless you decide it’s in the best interest of your employees and business. When making decisions on measures, conduct a workplace risk assessment. Doing so will identify any risks that exist within your workplace.
According to this updated Government advice employers should still:
Keep a COVID-19 Response Plan in place. Update this Response Plan to take account of the updated public health advice. These should be updated in consultation with employees and communicated once finalised. Facilitate the ongoing appointment and engagement of the Lead Worker Representative(s), as appropriate. Review and update Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) risk assessments and safety statements as employees return to the workplace. Maintain measures to deal with a suspected case of COVID-19 in the workplace. Maintain policies and procedures for prompt identification and isolation of employees who may have symptoms of COVID-19. Maintain any specific measures or responses for dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19 (refer to HPSC general guide on management of COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace). Employees should not attend the workplace if they’re displaying any signs or symptoms of COVID-19, or if they have had a positive test result. Maintain COVID-19 Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures.
What does this updated guidance say about working from home and the return to work?
Remote working, where appropriate, is strongly promoted in this updated guidance. According to this guidance, you should begin to look ahead and start to develop plans. Consult with employees when incorporating blended and remote working within your business.
This update emphasises the importance of a gradual and phased return to the workplace. It also states that some workers may be anxious about the physical return to the workplace. If this happens with one of your employees, engage with the individual concerned and endeavour to provide support where available.
It’s important to remember that some employees haven’t been in the workplace for nearly two years. They may be wary of returning, especially if they use public transport or car share.
In these situations, it’s wise to keep an open mind and see how you can accommodate these worried employees. In certain cases, it may be best to continue a remote working arrangement, stagger shifts, or devise a new office seating plan.
What’s most important is that you engage with employees. If this is unsuccessful, consider other options such as mediation. This can help navigate or prevent any potential conflict from arising.