Most businesses are eager to open up workplaces and get back to as close to normal working as possible. While this process happens it’s important not to unwittingly lead yourself into legal problems.
Health and safety is probably the first area that would spring to mind. It’s your responsibility to ensure that work premises are COVID-19-safe. But there are other considerations related to employment law, contracts with clients and suppliers, and your lease that you need to consider.
Health and Safety
You have to properly assess health risks and take all reasonable steps to prevent the COVID-19 virus from spreading in your workplace – this is your legal duty as an employer. Follow the relevant HSE guidance and remember that it’s about more than physical distancing of staff.
Policies regarding visitors (including customers who visit your site), use of communal facilities and cleaning arrangements all need to be reviewed in consultation with a staff health and safety representative. You may also need updated policies for home working and for shielding vulnerable employees.
This is likely to become a contentious area as the Government Job Retention Scheme is scaled back. Remember that you cannot unilaterally alter employees’ hours of work unless the terms of their contract explicitly allow it. Also, the normal rules apply regarding giving notice and selection for redundancy. A fair selection process must also be followed when choosing any employees you want to remain on furlough.
Other potential areas of dispute will be with furloughed employees who are shielding or who have childcare issues. Also, while you might want employees to take holiday while they are furloughed this isn’t always straightforward.
You probably have enough things to worry about in your business right now. Make sure that a claim for constructive dismissal or breach of employment contracts doesn’t add to your woes.
COVID-19 has made it impossible for some companies to supply goods and services. There have already been numerous disputes based on contract terms and conditions and consumer protection legislation. Now would be a good time to review where you stand to know which strategy to adopt should disputes arise.
The growth of home and flexible working, along with a possible need to downsize will affect how much space businesses need. There might also be financial realities that make current lease costs unviable.
If you have an impending break clause or you’re nearing the end of your lease you have a good
opportunity to negotiate or to find more suitable premises. Even if you are not approaching a break date, landlords might be willing to renegotiate to keep their premises occupied.
Break clauses and terminations always have specific rules in your lease agreement that must be followed. Deviate from the specified process and you risk losing your rights.
As with all legal issues, businesses are always best advised to take expert advice before acting. If you would like an informal discussion to help assess your risks and possible liabilities resulting from COVID-19 please contact the team at Powells Law on 01934 623501.