A Cheshire employment solicitor is warning employers to be mindful of potential costly mistakes as lockdown measures ease.
Under updated guidelines, those unable to work from home are allowed back into the workplace, with businesses issued with government guidance on keeping them as safe as possible.
There are concerns across England about the decision, with a poll finding 44 per cent of people feel anxious about the prospect of returning.
Latham Parry, partner and head of employment law at Warrington-based Watsons Solicitors, said employers should seek to ease fears of employees, take appropriate steps to remove or minimise risks, and treat concerns on a case by case basis.
He said: “The current climate is unchartered territory. It’s vital that bosses think carefully before making decisions, to reduce the risk of disputes and possible claims under employment laws.
“Employers should remember their duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of their employees.
“Update or carry out new risk assessments specifically in relation to coronavirus, and take steps to ensure that suitable measures are in place to minimise such risks, such as implementing social distancing, providing PPE (personal protective equipment) or ensuring that suitable hand washing facilities and sanitisers are in place.”
“Employers may find some of their staff refusing to come to work, perhaps because they are self-isolating or because of the risk of becoming infected.
“They may seek to rely on protections under employment law. For example, employees have the right to not be subjected to any detriment or be dismissed because they have ‘blown the whistle’ or because of taking certain measures on health and safety grounds. These grounds include taking or proposing to take appropriate steps to protect themselves or others if they have a reasonable belief of serious and imminent danger.
“Such arguments, in the context of the current pandemic, are untested and it will be interesting to see how employment tribunals decide such cases.
“If anyone has any questions or queries regarding the coronavirus and employment matters, our advice is to speak to an employment law specialist.”
Watsons Solicitors, which has been established for more than 60 years, specialises in family law, employment law, wills and probate, personal injury, and conveyancing.
The team of experienced solicitors hold various accreditations and memberships of professional bodies relevant to their expertise, while the firm’s partners oversee all areas of work.