As we face a summer of Olympic sport in Tokyo, it's not only the relay runners who may feel the pressure of the baton change. With lockdown step 4 due to take effect from 19 July, the Government has made it clear that it will no longer be issuing restrictions regarding working safely; that baton has very clearly been passed to employers.

At the time of writing, we are still waiting for clear guidance from the Government for office-based working. In the absence of such we would advise that employers prepare for the "baton" change for those staff they want to return to the office by considering the following;

  • Face masks - as these will no longer be required in public places as before, employers need to address whether they will still require employees to wear them within the workplace. Mindful of an employer's duty to protect the health and safety of its employees, many employers will continue to require employees to wear face masks whilst moving around the office. Any such approach must be supported by a robust risk assessment to demonstrate why the requirement goes beyond what the Government advises. It must be implemented or the policy and its accompanying risk assessment are meaningless. Clearly, any implementation or suggested sanctions for those not wearing masks must be mindful of circumstances where employees are not able to wear masks -these are currently outlined in step 3 guidance.
  • Mandatory testing- mindful again of an employer's duty to provide a safe place of work, consider whether to mandate twice-weekly testing. There will, of course, be employees who cannot be tested due to clinical reasons and there may well be some who refuse, raising human rights or disability concerns. A robust risk assessment and policy are again vital to demonstrate the need for such a requirement and to help justify any potential disciplinary sanction awarded for non-compliance. Whilst employment tribunals are currently looking favourably on employers in covid cases, they may be less so once the Government requirements have fallen away and employers are enforcing their own restrictions.
  • Communication - many employees who have not been office based for the last 16 months may have concerns about their safety and the arrangements for returning to work. Employers should consider how they are communicating with employees; are employees clear about what steps have been taken to make the workplace safe for them? have they raised any objections and if so have there been conversations about employees remaining at home? are line managers having more personal conversations with employees to understand both individual circumstances and to gauge more widespread response to issues such as face coverings and testing?

The scope and detail of the responsibilities thrust on employers as we approach step 4 is beyond what can be addressed in this post and further guidance is awaited. If you require any further advice or policy documentation please do contact me or any of our team.