The Return to Work from Covid: How businesses can stay on the right side of the law

Although lockdown restrictions are easing for many businesses across the country, health & safety and social distancing measures still apply.

11th May 2021

Obeying these rules, and making sure customers do the same, can be challenging, so how do businesses and customers stay on the right side of the law and what are the penalties if they don’t?

Saiful Ahmed, Legal Advisor at DAS Law explains what you need to know….

What are the latest guidelines issued by the government on the easing of lockdown restrictions and social distancing for businesses?

The government has produced guidance applicable to any business which is permitted under current guidance to open. The guidance is produced to advise businesses how they can ensure that they are protecting staff and customers from the spread of Covid-19.

The provisions are fairly extensive and largely serve to promote good hygiene and social distancing. Importantly, all businesses that re-open must ensure that they carry out an appropriate Covid-19 risk assessment, which must be recorded in writing and displayed for viewing by employees. An appropriate risk assessment template has been produced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

To observe social distancing as much as possible, the government advises that employees should continue to work from home if they can to minimise the number of journeys people make. Even though the government has set out a roadmap of how the restrictions will be easing from 8th of March to 21st of June, it is still vitally important that businesses  continue to observe measures to ensure everyone is doing all that they can to limit the risk of transmission of the virus. Below is a list of things that business should continue to undertake however, this is not an exhaustive list;

  • Stay two metres apart from others, or at least one metre (with other pre-cautions i.e. wearing masks) where it is not possible;
  • Put up signs and place tape on floors to advise of the need to social distance;
  • Minimise contact between staff by keeping any contact time as short as possible;
  • Advise staff to wear appropriate PPE (masks, visors, aprons etc) when within two metres of others;
  • Move seating and desks to encourage social distancing;
  • Have fixed teams of individuals working together;
  • Work back to back rather than face to face;
  • Where staff cannot work two metres apart they should only work together for 15 minutes at a time;
  • Use screens and barriers to separate people where possible;
  • Put in a one way system with separate entrance and exit points;
  • Close off non-essential areas;
  • Stagger workers start and break times;
  • Use stairs instead of lifts where possible.

Staff who are in the workplace should be informed and trained on the new systems of working and on the symptoms of COVID-19 and be advised to appropriately self-isolate in the event they, or a member of their household, becomes symptomatic.

To encourage good hygiene, businesses should;

  • Ensure workers wash their hands regularly;
  • Carry out more regular cleaning;
  • Provide hand sanitiser and wash stations;
  • Ask staff to change into workwear on site;
  • Where possible, wash staff uniform on site and do not let workers take them home;
  • Sanitise all work equipment;
  • Limit staff sharing equipment;
  • Open windows for good airflow and ventilation

Any business which serves customers or has visitors who spend a period of time in the premises is required to take the personal details of those individuals for the purposes of the NHS test, track and trace programme.  Businesses must keep these details for 21 days. Full details of the requirements can be found here https://www.gov.uk/guidance/maintaining-records-of-staff-customers-and-visitors-to-support-nhs-test-and-trace#information-to-collect.

The guidance above is largely followed by all of the devolved nations and so largely applies to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Please note that some of the devolved governments have enshrined some of this guidance into law.

How are the rules being enforced and can a business be reported for not adhering to the guidelines?

The guidance produced by the government is in the interests of public health and safety. Therefore, if a business is not complying with the guidance and/or putting any person at risk they can be reported to the relevant authority for any breach. There are various reporting authorities but in the main complaints can be made to the HSE or the local authority.  A full list of reporting authorities can be found here https://www.hse.gov.uk/contact/authority.htm.

What penalties might be imposed for those businesses that break the rules?

It is an offence for a business to open in breach of lockdown restrictions. Enforcing authorities have the power to issue prohibition notices, fines and to force closure.

Can any penalties be applied to business and individuals?

As it is a criminal offence, individuals as well as corporate bodies can be held liable for a breach.

Given that the guidelines and restrictions are changing regularly, how can a business ensure they are adhering to the most current rules?

The most recent guidance produced the government can be found online at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19. This page also provides links to relevant advice from the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland governments.

Further information on this topic can be found on DAS Businesslaw. To find out if you have access to this resource, please consult your policy documentation or contact your insurance broker.

If you are an insurance broker then you can quote and buy our products via DAS Connect, our E-Trade portal, or via your Acturis account.

About DAS Businesslaw

DAS Businesslaw can help policyholders create a range of documents such as ready-to-sign contracts (with built in e-signature functionality), agreements, policies and letters.

Customers can also access guidance on a wide range of legal matters such as new legislation, employment issues, crowdfunding, tax and financial planning, and data protection. The service also includes numerous COVID-19-specific templates and guides for businesses.

How to register
  • Visit dasbusinesslaw.co.uk;
  • Enter the voucher code found in your policy documentation into the ‘First time using DAS Businesslaw?’ box and click ‘Validate Voucher’;
  • Fill out your name, email address and create a password, and then validate the confirmation email sent out.

Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created. Note that the information was accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.

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