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COVID-19 safety records – a must for all employers

Employers that fail to keep records of the safety procedures they have evaluated and implemented when workplaces are permitted to re-open following the COVID-19 lockdown, could be leaving themselves open to legal risks, says RPC, the City-headquartered law firm.

RPC highlights the importance of comprehensive return to work planning. Employers should look to do all that they can to mitigate against the risks associated with an employee contracting coronavirus upon their return to work. Employers will want to be in a position to demonstrate that they have taken reasonable steps to safeguard their staff by, for example, proper social distancing measures.

RPC says that provisions may need to be made to accommodate employees that come under the high-risk category themselves, as well as those who live with people who are at high-risk.

Kelly Thomson, Legal Director at RPC said: “These employees may not be able to immediately return to the workplace on the same basis as before and employers may be expected to consider making exceptions for them where appropriate.”

“Employers should be working closely with their staff to ensure that those who fall into high risk categories can be given the reasonable support that is needed to carry out their jobs. The risk is not just one of health and safety. Employers could also find themselves subject to discrimination risks in certain circumstances.”

RPC says that many businesses are already working to formulate comprehensive plans for re-opening workplaces ahead of publication of the government’s guidance on Sunday May 10th and can learn valuable lessons from those businesses which have remained open and from other countries who are further ahead than the UK.

Health and Safety Executive guidance is already available. And RPC recommends that workplace safety requires, if possible, the risks of coronavirus to be evaluated against the specific circumstances of individual staff members.

Kelly Thomson, Legal Director at RPC offered: “Employers will want the Government to be as clear and explicit as possible in its advice and the underlying rationale. The more that is left to each employers’ discretion, the more difficult it is going to be to know how to appropriately and consistently manage workplace risk.”

“Even the best-prepared employers will face difficult decisions and judgment calls when it comes to re-opening workplaces.”

“Employers will be working through the practical steps needed to ready their workplaces and myriad physical considerations. Many will also be mindful of how to support the mental wellbeing of their people both during lockdown and as workplaces begin to reopen. All of this is being balanced with fundamental economic questions. The equation is not an easy one.”

“Even with clear guidelines in place, we would expect that many employers may decide to err on the side of caution and continue to operate with at least a proportion of their staff working remotely wherever practicable. However, this will not be possible or appropriate for all and these are where the judgment calls will need to be made.”