As the 19 July, dubbed ‘Freedom Day’, approaches many employers are having to adapt to the change in emphasis from the Government; moving from a system of legal limits imposing Covid-secure measures to a softer, guidance based regime, newly focusing on an individual’s ability to determine how to behave in certain situations.
Masks and Distancing
Given this forthcoming change, employers and businesses can now tailor their approach to suit the needs of their own organisation, particularly regarding distancing and mask wearing. Yet, some employers are feeling concerned over the lack of clarity, with Unions also calling for the re-imposition of mandatory mask wearing in certain indoor venues, including public transport.
Indeed, in recent days, some high-profile businesses have announced how they intend to operate over the coming months, after the 19 July. Waterstones and the UK’s 2 largest supermarkets, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, have outlined that they will still encourage customers to wear masks and will continue to require staff to do the same. Tesco went further, stating that it will continue to limit customer numbers in stores, wanting to keep ‘on the safe side’ for both staff and customers. Retail company, Timpsons, however, has stated that although it will continue to require staff to wear masks, it will be left up to customers to decide whether or not they will don a mask in store.
Yet, there are some businesses that are concerned with the perception that imposing mask wearing has on user-confidence, with some rail networks concerned about being singled out as one of the few places where mask wearing should be made compulsory and therefore sending the signal that they are a ‘danger zone’. For those businesses who actively want to minimise mask wearing, we would caution against a rule to prevent staff wearing masks, as this could create a number of health and safety and discrimination risks amongst staff.
Essentially, whilst not quite an ‘anything goes’ approach, employers will now be able to adopt policies and strategies to manage Covid risks, whilst giving a greater weight to what will most benefit their business. Factors that many employers will want to consider going forward will include:
Ensuring avenues for employee consultation.
Processes for dealing with staff confidentiality and sensitively, should they wish to discuss concerns on an individual basis.
Health and safety risks, specific to their business ie size of workplace, nature of business etc.
Ability to operate at optimum levels, to continue the success of the business and therefore job security.
Working from Home
The Government has also emphasised a gradual return to work for those working from home, which may not be too difficult for many businesses to implement, as the nation’s workforce continues to embrace a hybrid approach to where staff are expected to work. Employers who wish to encourage a return to the workplace, however, will now be more easily able to justify that approach.
On a final note of caution, whilst a significant minority of (mostly younger people) have not yet had the opportunity to have both jabs, it is sensible to avoid giving vaccine privileges to staff (for instance, a rule that staff who have had both jabs have greater choice in the location that they can choose to work ie more access to the office).
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