The Government is facing pressure from healthcare professionals to reinstate safety measures such as working from home as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
Working from home, as well as other measures including wearing face masks, should become mandatory once again, the British Medical Association have argued.
These policies fall under a contingency plan drawn up by Government ministers earlier this year, entitled ‘Plan B’.
This warning comes as the UK recorded over 40,000 daily COVID infections for eight days in a row.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul criticised the Government’s approach to dealing with the rising number of cases:
It is willfully negligent of the Westminster Government not to be taking any further action to reduce the spread of infection, such as mandatory mask wearing, physical distancing and ventilation requirements in high-risk settings, particularly indoor crowded spaces.
These are measures that are the norm in many other nations.
However, Health Secretary Sajid Javid stated “at this point”, the Plan B measures would not be re-introduced.
Despite this, Asha Kumar, Employment Partner at Keystone Law stated this could throw up some key problems for many employers who have spent months transitioning staff back into the workplace:
The increasing pressure on the Government to implement its Plan B in response to rising COVID rates and with the difficult winter months ahead, creates somewhat of a predicament for employers given that many have spent months gearing up to transition their workforce back into the office on either a 3:2 flexi-agile basis or in some cases, on a full-time basis.
Many employers are already grappling with some reluctant employees who simply don’t want to return to the office or because they genuinely hold concerns due to COVID-19.
Nonetheless, Ms. Kumar explained that employers still have a duty of care towards staff and have obligations to ensure safety in the workplace in light of this change in circumstances:
The onus is very much on employers to put in place steps and measures to ensure they comply with their obligations. What does this mean for employers?
Firstly, employers should revisit their COVID-19 risk assessments and ensure that any risks are reasonably mitigated against.
This may include re-introducing a form of social distancing within the office, mask wearing, increasing hand sanitisation stations and/or improving ventilation.
Employers should think about putting in place an “outbreak” procedure which would inform managers of the steps to be taken in the case of notified cases occurring in the workplace.
Further, employees should be informed of the process to be follow where they display any COVID-19 symptoms, which may require them to work from home until they have a negative PRC Test result.
Finally, in addition to this, employers may also want to rethink whether their staff should be required to have regular lateral flows before attending the office and/or whether vaccinations should be mandated for their staff, although both of these options would require navigating through complex employment law challenges.
Although it is currently unclear at present whether working from home measures will become mandatory once again, it has been outlined by the Government previously as a vital strategy which could be used to reduce transmissions of the virus.