Just when we were starting to believe that Covid was a thing of the past another new variant emerges hitting the headlines and causing concern for all just as we enter the festive period.
In response to the new Omicron variant, the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have advised people where possible, to work from home.
The Scottish government has indicated that employers should consider long term hybrid working models to reduce the risk of spreading the virus and the Welsh government have encouraged employers to let staff work from home where possible and not require them or place any pressure on them to return to the workplace unless there is a clear business need.
What is the current position for England regarding the new variant?
The government has indicated that no changes to the current position on employer’s working practices will be made as a result of the new variant and have suggested that it continues to be for employers to decide what they think the right balance is. There have however been some suggestions that working from home measures may be introduced for a limited time if the burden on the NHS significantly increases.
What do employers need to do?
The work from home guidance in England came to an end when we said goodbye to restrictions in July however employers still have a duty to ensure that they do all they can to manage the risk to staff and customers.
This includes carrying out a Covid risk assessment for those staff who work on the premises and implementing relevant measures to maintain safety.
Relevant measures to manage the risk and maintain safety in the workplace can include:
- Additional and more frequent cleaning.
- Putting up barriers between staff at workstations and spacing workstations out.
- Implementing a one-way system.
- Requesting staff to wear PPE when in high-trafficked areas of the workplace.
- Implementing measures such a maximum number of people in certain areas of the workplace.
- Implementing additional ventilation.
- Reducing the number of visitors on site.
- Restricting in person meetings.
- Reducing meetings off site.
What else can employers do?
Depending on your business needs, many of you will have temporarily or even permanently implemented working from home measures during previous lockdowns. Working from home is one of the best methods of reducing the spread as it reduces the level of face-to-face contact.
Working from home may not however fit all businesses on either a temporary or long-term basis.
An alternative option for employers to consider is implementing hybrid working where employees work from home on set days and in the workplace on the other days. The benefit of this is that you can regulate the number of staff you have attending the office on a daily basis allowing you to manage the risk and safety of staff whilst still being able to facilitate employees attending the workplace to carry out vital tasks.
Points to take away
Whilst it is possible that the Government may change its position if the circumstances drastically change, we always recommend that it is good practice to try and have a plan in place to cover any eventuality.
We recommend that you revisit your workplace covid risk assessment to ensure that it continues to effectively manage the risk and protect staff. We recommend you do this regardless of whether working from home or hybrid working is an option for you.
As mentioned above, you can consider working from home arrangements or consider hybrid working arrangements if you have not done so in the past. We would recommend having a policy in place setting out what the arrangements include and what is expected of employees in terms of work, health and safety and other practical arrangements.
If you would like to explore how best to implement working from home or hybrid working arrangements, please feel free to contact us. We will be happy to advise you on the best way to implement this specific to your business needs.
It is important to remember that certain employees can make a flexible working request for example to change their location of work. A valid request must be considered appropriately and can only be refused if there are legitimate business reasons.