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As employers begin to take steps to reopen their offices and workplaces, they should be carefully considering their legal requirements as well as their obligation to safeguard the health and wellbeing of all employees.

David McBride, Head of Employment at Bray & Bray, highlights the key considerations for employers to make the transition back to the workplace compliant and as smooth as possible for both their staff and their business.

At time of writing, the government plans to lift the remaining COVID restrictions in place in England on 19 July 2021. COVID-secure measures remain in place until this date, and employers must continue to monitor any updates to government guidance to protect the health of employees.

Whilst a return to the office is a positive step for many businesses, the world of work has undergone a huge shift, and employers must ensure these changes are reflected across all areas of the business. Here are some crucial points for employers to consider.

Are employee contracts up to date?

Recent surveys suggest that over half of workers would like to retain a combination of homeworking and office working, with three quarters expecting employers to offer it. Therefore, employers should be thinking about their approach towards hybrid working and ensure employee contracts are up to date and reflect new working patterns and locations.

If your staff work flexibly, remotely or a hybrid of office and home, this needs to be stated in the employee’s contract. However, employers should note that changes to a contract are only lawful if both parties agree to the change.

Is the office a safe environment?

Restrictions may be easing, but it is still essential that safety in the workplace is prioritised to manage the risk of COVID-19.

Conducting a risk assessment and considering how the office layout could be modified to provide staff with a comfortable and safe place to work is a key place to start. Consider whether social distancing, staggering shifts, additional handwashing facilities, face coverings and PPE are appropriate and communicate and discuss these measures with employees.

Some businesses may encourage the use of lateral flow tests to reduce the risk of virus transmission in the workplace. As well as protecting employee health and wellbeing, conducting regular tests, and acting appropriately on the result may prevent the need for workforce isolation and reduce staff sickness and absence.

How secure is your data outside of the office environment?

The move to home and remote working has meant that many organisations are using new IT solutions and devices, but it’s important that these are assessed to ensure they’re safe, secure, and private. Under General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), personal data must be kept secure under all circumstances, and organisations must ensure compliance by implementing appropriate IT security measures such as a remote access policy and device encryption to manage their data and reduce the risk of data breaches.

Ensure you have clear policies and tools in place for staff who are working remotely and are handling sensitive or personal data. These could include using unique and complex passwords, enabling configuring multi-factor authentication where possible, and only allowing use of the device for work purposes. Businesses may also consider prohibiting the use of personal devices for work and data processing to prevent security risks, as private tech may not be equipped with the same security tools used for work.

Have you updated your business insurance?

If you have provided your employees with office equipment to use from home, you should ensure your business insurance covers this, as employees’ home insurance may not provide all the cover they require to be fully protected.

If you employ anyone, you’re also legally obliged to have employer’s liability insurance in case employees injure themselves working from you, covering damages of at least £5m. 

How do your employees feel about returning to the office?

Be mindful that some employees may feel nervous about returning to the office, and others may have underlying health conditions that should be considered when setting out working policies, rotas, and shift patterns and assessing risks in the workplace.

Employers have a duty of care and should encourage employees to talk about their worries and concerns about returning to the office. COVID-19 has had a huge mental health impact, so demonstrate you recognise and understand this by introducing and communicating the tools, support and measures available to employees.

By maintaining strong lines of communication, and establishing a robust contingency plan to reduce the risk of business disruption caused by future lockdown measures, staff will feel supported, valued and reassured that you are continuing to prioritise their health and safety during these uncertain times.

Speak to our team

Bray & Bray’s employment team can provide specialist advice and support to ensure you have taken the necessary steps to protect your employees and your business.

Our employment lawyers are based at each of our four offices in Leicestershire. Contact us by calling or clicking on the link below, or pop into one of our offices.

Leicester: call us on 0116 254 8871.

Hinckley: call us on 01455 639 900.

Market Harborough: call us on 01858 467 181.

Corby: call us on 01536 851050.

 

Look out for our next employment law blog, which will look at hybrid and flexible working models and provide advice on implementing changes to working practices.