It is amazing to see how far our clients (and we!) have come in a short space of time.

As the public health crisis developed over the last eight weeks, our Coronavirus Response Team have been working hand in hand with clients, supporting them as they navigate their way through the maze of legal obligations in the face of guidance changing almost daily. Lockdown, social distancing, working from home and furlough have become common terms to us all and a point of focus for many organisations as they seek to steer their way through the pandemic presented by COVID-19.

Other countries have already started to ease lockdown restrictions. As the conversation begins about easing current restrictions here, most businesses have already started to think carefully about how to manage getting back to business in the anticipated new normal. However, no business can afford to ignore the significant implications of COVID-19 in relation to the health and safety of employees, which is paramount. As well as the potential for claims for damages for personal injury and fatalities, there is a real risk of potential criminal prosecution for health and safety failings, including individual liability as well as untold reputational damage.

The plethora of guidance available and the speed at which it is changing is challenging for organisations in understanding how to comply with their legal duties. Any guidance issued, is not law. Compliance with any guidance alone will not ensure compliance with legal duties and any deviation requires supporting with robust risk assessment. All existing legal provisions to protect workers remain in place, including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and related legislation as well as the new coronavirus legislation.

In each case, a detailed, demonstrable audit trail will be the best form of defence if required. An audit trail would also assist in providing a ready response to any queries by Police, Local Authorities or the HSE. While those regulating the pandemic have expressed an intention to take a flexible and proportionate approach it remains to be seen how that will work in practice in the months ahead – we are most definitely not there yet.

The good news is that our Coronavirus Response Team is poised and ready to help you consider the practical issues when planning a return to business to ensure compliance with all your legal duties, including:

  • Key health and safety measures for employees and your workplace
  • Any existing policies that may need to be reviewed for business post-lockdown
  • Establishing an exit plan from furlough and the JRS (including your legal obligations if you need to consider redundancies)
  • Implementing changes to employees’ terms and conditions associated with a safe return to work and handling concerns raised by employees who are hesitant to return to work
  • How to manage employees returning to work from overseas
  • Supply chain issues – practical contractual issues or disputes arising from COVID-19
  • Diversifying your business
  • Cybersecurity and data issues, particularly around testing and monitoring
  • Planning considerations

Look out for our menu of offerings in these critical days ahead to keep you advised and up to date and help you navigate a way out of lockdown and the challenges that presents. First up, we’ll be hosting a webinar next Tuesday at 11am, which will feature contributions from our Health & Safety and employment law teams, as well as other specialists. To register your place, click here.

In the meantime, do get in touch with your regular contact or one of our Coronavirus Response Team for advice.