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Health and Safety at work during Covid-19

By Elena Oara, LLM Student


The Coronavirus outbreak and subsequent protective measures will have a long-lasting impact on the economy, businesses and working lives. Organisations have been forced to make rapid changes to how they operate, and workers had to adapt to new ways of working and living in these unpredictable times.

The experiences of working during the pandemic differed depending on individual circumstances. Whilst some employees have become accustomed to working remotely, others have been furloughed, and many are still going into their normal workplace.

In these tumultuous times, it is important for everyone to know their rights. The immediate response to coronavirus was to simply get on as best as possible and keep the country going, as workers begin to return to workplaces from 1st August 2020,  employers should make every effort to comply with Covid-19 Secure guidelines set out by the government. So, what is expected on an employer?


Employers’ obligations to provide Safe Working

Your employer has a duty of care to protect you, your co-workers and other people who might be affected by their business. This means that employers have duties under health and safety law to make sure that:

  • A risk assessment is carried out in your workplace and that you are consulted on health and safety issues either directly or through a safety representative.
  • You have been informed about the risks in your workplace, how you are protected, and you have received training on how to deal with the risks.
  • All employees in higher risk groups that may need specific personal risk assessments are identified and that the risk assessments consider whether the employee should be permitted to work from home and, if that is not possible, what protective measures should be adopted for them personally.
  • Providing facilities and time for regular hand washing, including hand sanitiser where needed.

To minimise the risk of employees catching Covid-19, employers should consider putting in place the following:

  • Additional cleaning regimes to keep surfaces clean and disinfected.
  • Display signs and floor markings reminding people to maintain social distancing.
  • Using screens or barriers to separate people from each other.
  • If the risk assessment shows that wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) is required, then it must be provided free of charge to workers who need it.
  • Advise workers and customers who feel unwell to stay at home and not attend the premises.

In the context of Covid-19, all employers should take all reasonable steps to protect workers’ health and safety by following the guidelines and also keep in mind that no one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment. For more information on other specific government guidelines please access the GOV.UK link here.


What could you do if you want to complain or you complain to your employer and they do not like it?

A failure to comply with health and safety obligations could leave employers exposed to claims against them. As an example, the employee could argue that a failure to adequately protect him/her is a breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence and then resign in response to the employer’s fundamental breach and claim constructive unfair dismissal.

The Employment Rights Act 1996, s. 100 provides protection to employees from being dismissed or treated to their detriment if they raise health and safety concerns. As a result of the pandemic, employers should keep in mind that taking disciplinary action against an employee could lead to claims of detriment, discrimination (if the employee received unfavourable treatment based on any characteristic protected under the Equality Act 2010), or unfair dismissal if the employee is dismissed for withdrawing their labour raising health and safety concerns.

If you are being made to return to work when you do not feel safe to do so, or if you need help and legal advice on another employment matter please call SHU Law office on 0114 225 6666 or email enquiries@shulaw.co.uk.


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