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Social Distancing at Work: Advice for Employers

Apr 7, 2020

Social distancing. Not a term that many of us were particularly familiar with this time last year or even a few months ago. But a phrase which now dominates our everyday lives as our behaviour changes in the response to the Coronavirus crisis.

Social distancing at work is key to this response. And employers have a duty to ensure that they adhere to guidelines issued by the government as well as a duty to keep their employees safe.

Here we look at what employers need to know about social distancing at work.

How can you manage social distancing as an employer?

Firstly, if people are able to work remotely and you have the ability to support this as a business then this should be the primary way that a business manages social distancing at work.

Government advice states that ‘businesses and workplaces should encourage their employees to work at home, wherever possible.’

If the majority of your team will be working remotely then communication will be vital as you will be without face to face contact for a prolonged period.

  • Communicate with your staff on a regular basis to keep them informed of the situation and your business response to it
  • Ensure that employees are fully aware of government advice with regards to minimising the spread of the Coronavirus
  • Ensure you fulfil your health and safety responsibilities for remote workers
  • Make sure staff know what is expected of them
  • You can also run virtual meetings to maintain face to face time using a wide variety of online tools. Use those which your business is familiar with and which you have ideally risk/security assessed

For those who have employees who are unable to work from home e.g. essential retailers, those who work in construction etc, key areas to consider include:

Respect the guidelines with regards to safe social distancing practices:

  • Ensure that a distance of at least 2m apart between all staff and customers is maintained at all times
  • Only allow small groups of people into your retail space at a time to prevent overcrowding and enable the 2m distancing
  • Any queues outside your premises must also be managed and observe the 2m distancing rules.

It is essential to also pay extra care and attention to general health and safety if you are remaining open as a business. Handwashing, hand sanitiser and overall cleanliness will be vital.

As is listening to your employees. You may have employees who are in high risk categories, individuals who need to care for a family member, or those who need to self-isolate because they are showing symptoms of the Coronavirus. Providing a supportive working environment has been encouraged.

Take Next as an example, they closed their retail units and planned to keep their online systems open. However, when staff working in their warehouse and distribution operation expressed concerns about working in the current climate, Next took the decision to close these operations, temporarily closing their whole business.

Keep up to date on the government advice on keeping your employees safe during the Coronavirus outbreak.

The CIPD website also has a wide range of useful information for employers with regards to managing the Coronavirus.

Why is it vital that as an employer you follow the social distancing guidelines?

We all have a role to play to minimise the spread of the Coronavirus. A vital part of this is adhering to the guidance regarding social distancing.

But as an employer you also have a duty of care to your employees to protect their health, safety and welfare. And this of course applies during the Coronavirus crisis. And remember, it also includes staff working remotely.

It is your responsibility to protect staff from risks within the workplace and provide a safe place to work.

Ultimately, under current government guidelines, people should not be in a working environment unless it is considered an essential service and it is not possible for them to work from home.

Will there be a lasting impact on working practices?

It is of course too early to say exactly what the lasting impacts of the social distancing that we are all rightly observing at this current time will be.

Likewise, we do not currently know if any future, stricter measures will need to be taken in the UK. At the time of writing, some European countries require people to obtain paperwork before they are able to leave their house.

  • Will we see regulations put in place to minimise staff numbers allowed in a certain space? Particularly during times more prone to outbreak such as the winter months
  • Will businesses look to home working as a way to minimise business costs such as business rates and expensive office blocks?
  • And if people work effectively from home can businesses justifiably block future requests for more flexible working patterns?
  • What impact will there be on business travel? If we find efficient ways to work remotely this may limit the need to travel. Something which would also have a benefit to climate change.

At such an unprecedented time, the most important thing that can be done is to follow the guidelines issued by the government and listen to employees and any concerns that they may have in order to meet your duty of care.

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