With a new lockdown announced in 2021, the government has confirmed critical workers will continue to work as normal whilst the nation navigates through the stay at home order.

Employees such as those in construction, manufacturing or warehouses who are unable to do their jobs from home will continue to travel to work, despite the rising levels of infection across England. For workers across the country, this creates a dilemma as they worry about placing themselves in a vulnerable position to complete their job during the lockdown.

To aid businesses in making their employees feel secure and understanding their duty of care to these workers, Jayne Harrison, Head of Employment Law at Richard Nelson LLP has outlined the legalities for businesses to protect their staff during lockdown 3.0:

Assess which employees can work from home

According to the government, any workers who are unable to complete their job role at home are still able to leave their house for work purposes. This is including but not limited to those who work in critical national infrastructure, construction, or other roles that require in-person attendance. Therefore construction workers, cleaners, and other critical workers who are unable to work effectively from home will be expected, in most cases, to return to work if their employer is operating their services.

Employers should carefully assess the cases of those employees who have proven they are able to complete their job from home. If it is not necessary for this employee to attend the workplace, they should be encouraged to work remotely. Employers must also assess the case of any employees who are redundant to the business due to a seasonal downturn or drop in sales, since these employees may be eligible for furlough and therefore would not need to attend the worksite.

Support your vulnerable critical employees during lockdown

Any employees who have received a letter from the government recommending them to shield should not be expected to attend their workplace, a measure put in place for their own protection. Businesses in the UK have the option to furlough their employees who are required to shield during lockdown if remote working is not possible. If these employees can continue to work remotely, they can continue to do so.

For employees who are at a higher risk but did not receive a letter from the government, employers can carry out a risk assessment to ensure the workplace is as COVID-secure as possible. Employers cannot force their employees to attend the workplace. Businesses should however consider whether these staff can be furloughed or whether there is any other way to deal with their absence. It might be that a business can start disciplinary action if an employee refuses to return to work but businesses need to exercise care when considering this option.

Ensure your business has conducted a risk assessment

Employees who cannot work from home may be concerned that their workplace itself is unsafe. Businesses should ensure they have taken the necessary steps to make the environment secure, by following the current social distancing guidance and making physical adjustments to the workplace. Employers should communicate the specific arrangements they have put in place to protect their workforce with the team.

HR and management should consider staggering the start and finish times of their employees who are commuting where possible to ensure the risk of infection is minimised. They should also ensure employees who are able to work remotely are given this option, as well as supporting any staff who are too vulnerable to return to work at this time.

The requirement of critical workers to continue attending to their workplace is something that employers must handle with extreme sensitivity. Employees should feel comfortable discussing their worries with their employer about the pandemic and employers must work in this instance to support their employees as they navigate safely through this lockdown.